After a series of endless rumours and speculation, San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle has agreed to a 5 year, $75 million contract ($15 million per year) with the 49ers, per Ian Rapoport on Twitter.
Kittle’s new contract makes him the highest-paid TE in the NFL. Annually, the former Iowa Hawkeye now earns $5 million more than Browns TE Austin Hooper (Hooper was signed to a 5-year deal at the start of free agency which saw him earn $10 million per year).
Although the deal ‘breaks’ the existing TE market, the Niners should have no qualms about paying Kittle what he’s earned. After the 2019 season, PFF named George Kittle the best player in the NFL due to the TE earning a PFF grade of 95.0 – the highest out of all NFL players. Moreover, Kittle came in at number 7 on the NFL’s annual Top 100 list – two spots higher than Rob Gronkowski‘s highest-ever ranking which was 9th in 2016.
Critical acclaim aside, on the field Kittle has proven to be one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the NFL. After breaking the TE single-season receiving record in 2018 with 1377 yards, Kittle went on to be an integral part of the 49ers Super Bowl run this past season. While still missing two games due to ankle injury, Kittle still amassed over 1000 yards receiving (1077) and 5 touchdowns.
From a 49ers point of view, Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers are no strangers to paying above market value for a position or player they rate highly. In 2017, the 49ers signed fullback Kyle Juszczyk to a 4-year, $21 million contract (although only $9 million of that $21 million was guaranteed). Despite the high cost, Juszczyk has proven his worth in this Shanahan offence. A sign of a clear and coherent front office and coaching staff – they don’t compromise and they don’t ‘make-do’.
It’s established then that Kittle will be the highest-paid TE for the near future. But it is important to not only compare Kittle’s contract to tight-ends, but to wide receivers too.
When compared to receivers, Kittle would be the 7th highest-paid wideout in the league per year. Kittle’s earnings per year are on par with Browns receiver Jarvis Landry and slightly below Texans WR Brandin Cooks (who is set to earn $16.2 million per year on his current contract). Is Kittle better than both Landry and Cooks? Yes.
Looking at the receivers who earn more than Kittle per year – Deandre Hopkins, Mike Evans, Micheal Thomas and Amari Cooper – I’d say the only player in that list that deserves to be paid more than Kittle is Hopkins.
To sum up, although this deal my seem costly now, it is a necessary payment to make for the Niners. When Kittle was absent from their offence last year, there was a marked difference in the explosiveness and versatility of the 49er O. When you factor in the 49ers unproven WR corps and Deebo Samuel‘s injury, it was of great importance that the 49ers got this deal done – whatever the cost.