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Could the 49ers trade George Kittle? Maybe....

Gilbert Brink
Jun 1, 2020 at 6:50 AM

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George Kittle is one of the best players the 49ers have had over the last twenty years. Just 3 seasons into his NFL career and it isn't a stretch to state that Kittle is the very best tight end who has ever played for the franchise. Why then, is there even a thought being given to trading George Kittle?

On Friday evening word began to circulate via NFL Network's Michael Silver that Kittle's agent Jack Bechta is aiming for his client to get paid, not like the best tight end in football, but as something much larger than that. According to Silver the 49ers and Kittle "are not close" to a deal. This is no surprise as any follower of Kittle knows that his value extends well beyond the traditional tight end role. Kittle is hands down, the best blocking tight end in football. Many teams would be better served playing George Kittle at left tackle than who they have slotted for that position at this moment. In addition to his superior blocking ability, George Kittle posted one of the greatest seasons ever for a tight end when he registered a record 1,377 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns on 88 receptions. Physical abilities aside, Kittle is the heart and soul of the 49ers offense. The passion he brings to every play is infectious, and often he can be seen encouraging his fellow teammates whenever he sees a head hanging after an unfortunate play. Once again, why should the 49ers even think about trading such a tremendously talented leader like Kittle?

The answer to many of life's most puzzling questions is often the same, and that answer is money. As indispensable as George Kittle is to the San Francisco 49ers, there is only so much money to go around an NFL roster. One of the negative side effects of having a championship-caliber team is the burden of paying the championship-caliber players on that team. The 49ers know this better than anybody, as in March GM John Lynch struck a deal with the Indianapolis Colts sending team MVP DeForest Buckner out of town for a 1st-round pick. Upon his arrival in Indianapolis, Buckner received a brand new contract paying him roughly $21 million a year. DeForest Buckner was the shining example of what a franchise would want in a football player, and he was sent packing.

The harsh reality that the 49ers face is that of a team with its back pressed against the salary cap, with young standout players who will need to be paid, and some bad deals on the books. Players like LB Kwon Alexander and DE Dee Ford were signed to exorbitant deals in 2019, and after one season both contracts appear to be albatrosses to the progress of the team. With so much money dedicated to these players, the task of signing homegrown talent like LB Fred Warner, CB Emmanuel Moseley, RT Mike McGlinchey and TE George Kittle becomes a tough one to tackle. Currently the 49ers are $15 million under the cap, with no rookies from their 2020 draft class signed. Looking forward to 2021, the 49ers have T Trent Williams, CB Richard Sherman, S Jaquiski Tartt, FB Kyle Jusczyk, WR Kendrick Bourne and CB K'waun Williams all scheduled to become free agents. Quite simply, the money isn't there.

Not only do the 49ers have so many key players due for new contracts, the full effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have yet to be detailed. Currently there are no guarantees that the NFL season will be played with fans in attendance, let alone played at all. If there are alterations to the season, the revenue received by the league could be significantly reduced. With a reduced revenue stream, it is almost certain that the 2021 salary cap will be reduced as well. The 49ers may be looking at not only being unable to sign their own free agents in 2021, they may be forced to part ways with some players who would still be under contract.

With all these risk factors being known, how much money can the 49ers realistically commit to George Kittle?

Let me preface the following by saying I absolutely want the 49ers to sign George Kittle to a new deal. Out of every player on the roster, I ranked him the 3rd most important player to the team's success in 2020, just behind DE Nick Bosa and QB Jimmy Garoppolo. With that being said, every player comes with a price tag. The New England Patriots have built the blueprint for sustainable success in the NFL. For two decades, Bill Belichick ran the Patriots with the notion that no one player is essential (aside from Tom Brady) to the team's success. The Patriots cannot be connected to the term "overpaid." Will the 49ers go the route of the New England Patriots or will they empty their piggybank to lock down one of the cornerstones to the franchise's restoration to excellence? Let's examine a few of the possible options.

Pay The Man!

This is the most desirable outcome. The highest paid TE in the NFL is currently San Diego Chargers tight end Hunter Henry, who rakes in $10.6 million in 2020. George Kittle is an exponentially better player than Henry, and he deserves to get paid in a way that indicates that. Scott Blair of NBC Sports suggested Kittle should be paid like a top wide receiver. Julio Jones is the highest paid receiver in the NFL and the Falcons pay him roughly $22 million per year. Kittle is just as important to the 49ers' success as Jones is to the Falcons' success, but that number is unacceptable. No matter how dominant a player Kittle is, the 49ers cannot justify paying him double the amount of the current top earning tight end. Both the 49ers and Kittle must be willing to meet in the middle. Kittle's agent must do what's in the best interest for his client, and the 49ers must consider how paying Kittle will affect the other 52 members of the roster. Both sides should split the difference between top TE and top WR and meet in the middle, making him the highest paid TE in NFL history with a deal in the range of $15 million a year.

Trade The Man?

Nobody wants to see this happen. Well, maybe somebody does, and that would be the team on the other end of this trade. If Kittle and his agent are dedicated to getting a contract that pays him in the $20 million yearly range, the 49ers must move on. There is no way this team can afford to pay a TE a salary that rich. George Kittle is a dynamic player and a true warrior. Over the past 3 seasons he has suffered through a handful of injuries that have caused him to miss time. Kittle himself has spoken of a torn labrum that he has played with for the past two seasons. It's an injury he doesn't intend to repair. When players begin to seek monstrous contracts, all factors must be considered, and Kittle's injury history could be used as a piece of reasoning to ease the pain of moving on from the star TE. If the 49ers had to go down this road, what would equate to reasonable compensation for Kittle in a trade? The 49ers received a 1st round selection for DT DeForest Buckner, who wasn't even the best at his position. Even two 1st round selections would seem to fall short of the true value that Kittle could bring to a team. Last year the Rams traded for CB Jalen Ramsey and in doing so they gave up two 1st round selections and a 4th round selection. A deal similar to the Ramsey deal should be the starting point if the 49ers have to begrudgingly explore any trade options.

The Franchise

A third option is always on the table if the 49ers and Kittle cannot come to terms on his value. With Kittle currently being in the final year of his contract the team can insist he play out his final year, continue to negotiate with his agent and if worst comes to worst, designate the franchise tag to him in 2021. This isn't a bad option business wise, but it would be terrible for the morale and chemistry that has fueled the resurgence of this once proud franchise. Placing the franchise tag on Kittle could maximize their ability to compete for the next few seasons, but failing to reward the heart and soul of the offense may do irreparable damage to the familial environment that GM John Lynch & HC Kyle Shanahan have worked so hard to create.

The 49ers Should...

It's not about what they should do, it's about what they must do, and that is sign George Kittle to a long-term deal immediately. Players of his caliber don't come around often, and to allow a potential Hall of Fame talent to get out of your organization is the stuff that sinks franchises. It is easy to say this, but how could the 49ers make this a reality? Trim the fat. San Francisco did a fine job of unloading the contracts of WR Marquise Goodwin and RB Matt Brieda in April. The only issue with those moves is they should have kept going. To keep Kittle the 49ers will have to part ways with some other players and the sooner they do this, the quicker they can lock down the best TE in the NFL.

The 49ers have an incredibly deep roster. If they can find a way to unload the contracts of some of the more expendable players it would allow them the extra cap space to land a deal for Kittle. Players like C Weston Richburg, RB Tevin Coleman, and WR Dante Pettis all can be easily replaced while carrying them would equate to legitimate financial burdens to the team.

Bottom line is this team is going to lose a lot of good players in the coming years. Don't let George Kittle be one of them.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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