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49ers Have All the Leverage and Should Just Say No to Paying George Kittle What He Wants

Levin T. Black
Jun 27, 2020 at 12:47 PM


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The San Francisco 49ers and star tight end George Kittle are currently working on a contract extension. The two sides have been for awhile. No one outside of the franchise knows how close the two sides are. What is known is the type of money Kittle is seeking.

Kittle wants to be paid like a top offensive tackle or wide receiver. His agent went public with this info nearly a month ago. Since then there has been silence from both sides. They could be far apart. Heck, they could have already agreed considering the team managed to keep DeForest Buckner's permission to seek a trade and head coach Kyle Shanahan's extension secrets for MONTHS.

It wouldn't be surprising if they aren't close however. This is because the 49ers hold every ounce of leverage in this situation (more on this later). Kittle has no ability to force the 49ers to pay him like a tackle or receiver other than refusing to play. Both Julio Jones (top paid WR) and Laremy Tunsil (top paid LT) are paid an average of $22 million per season.

Refusing to play has been done by others in the past. However, it is neither the way Kittle seems to operate nor does he have the ability to make do without any pay like the 49ers own Trent Williams did with the Washington Redskins.

Kittle was a fifth-round draft pick. He's made a little more than $1.5 million TOTAL in his three-year career. Living in the Bay Area and getting married during this time period means he isn't likely sitting on a pile of cash. Sitting out all of 2020 would go against the type of person he seems to be and likely put him in a financial predicament.

This is just one reason the 49ers have all the leverage.

The bigger part of why the 49ers can refuse to pay Kittle what he wants is the franchise tag in combination with the amount other tight ends get paid. The current top paid contract among tight ends is the one Austin Hooper signed this off-season ($42 million, four years). It has an average annual salary (AAV) of $10.5 million for the math challenged readers.

That's it. That's the best. If Kittle is seeking top receiver or tackle pay it means he is seeking to double the current AAV of the highest paid player at his position.

Yes, Kittle is uniquely valuable. He blocks like a top tackle and is the 49ers' best receiving weapon in the passing game. His value is only amplified in Shanahan's system as well. He absolutely should reset the market ... by a wide margin.

But doubling the current top pay for his position? Not with the fact the 49ers can control his next four years at a fraction of that cost. Kittle is set to count for $2.2 million against the salary cap in 2020. The 49ers can then start utilizing the franchise tag to keep Kittle on the team.

The TE franchise tag amount is projected to be about $10.6 million in 2020. Assuming that climbs a little in the next year (might decrease due to COVID), let's say $11 million for 2021. That's what Kittle would make two seasons from now. The 49ers could then use the tag again in 2022 and pay Kittle 120 percent of the previous amount. This means Kittle would make $13.2 million in the 2022 season ($11 million X 1.2 = $13.2).

It's not over yet though. The 49ers can then tag Kittle a third time at 144 percent his previous year's salary bringing his 2023 salary amount to a hair more than $19 million.

Add the four years up and you get the equivalent of a four-year, $45.4 million contract extension which is an $11.35 million AAV. The 49ers get that with the added benefit of being free and clear of dead cap space every single year if a catastrophic injury or some unforeseeable decline in quality of play happens.

A four-year, $45.4 million extension with an out for the 49ers every year would be seen as a massive steal of the deal for the team. The 49ers shouldn't and simply don't need to pay Kittle anywhere near the $22 million he is seeking.

Paying Kittle a long-term contract with an AAV in the $13-15 million range is where this negotiation should end up. It represents 130 to 150 percent of the current highest AAV for the position and gives Kittle more money than he would get if the 49ers are forced to go the franchise tag route.

Kittle gets a big pay day immediately as well in the form of a signing bonus. This shouldn't be ignored considering how little he's made so far and the potential of no season this year (yes, still possible).
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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