George Kittle vs. Trent Williams: Who will the 49ers Keep Long Term?
The 49ers made a fascinating decision this offseason.
They know tight end George Kittle wants a multi-year contract extension worth probably $17 million or $18 million per season -- somewhere around there. He will be a free agent in 2021.
But instead of giving him the extension, they traded for Trent Williams, who also will want a multi-year extension worth big bucks -- maybe bigger bucks than Kittle. Williams will be a free agent in 2021 as well.
Seems unlikely the 49ers can give both Williams and Kittle the contract extensions they desire. Seems the 49ers might have to pick just one to extend.
Who should they pick?
Here’s a case for each player.
THE CASE FOR TRENT WILLIAMS
He’s a left tackle -- let’s start there. Left tackle is the second-most important position on an offense after quarterback. And Williams is the best left tackle in the NFL, and great ones are hard to find.
The past 12 seasons, the 49ers had a great one -- Joe Staley. Williams is even better. Kyle Shanahan talks about Williams as if he’s the best athlete in the world, and he might be. He will improve both the 49ers’ pass protection and run-blocking.
The 49ers didn’t have to worry about their left-tackle position from 2008 to 2019 when Staley was there. If they re-sign Williams, they won’t have to worry about the position for another five years.
And if they don’t re-sign Williams, they can’t franchise tag him -- they just agreed not to while renegotiating his deal. So they can’t him and trade him for a first-round pick, either. They’d have to settle for a third-round compensatory pick in return if he leaves.
Conversely, the 49ers can tag Kittle and pay him less than $11 million in 2021. And if Kittle refuses to play on the tag, the 49ers can trade him for a first-round pick and use it to pick the best tight end in the draft.
Finding another great left tackle would be much more difficult.
THE CASE FOR GEORGE KITTLE
You don’t need an All Pro left tackle to win a Super Bowl -- you need a good one. And Justin Skule was serviceable for the 49ers last season as a rookie. They went 8-0 with him in the starting lineup. He needs to get stronger, but so do most young players. He seems more than capable of becoming the starting left tackle in 2021 if Williams leave.
Kittle makes the run game good, and the 49ers are a run-first team. Even last season when Joe Staley was out, or Mike McGlinchey was out, or Kyle Juszczyk was out, the running game remained fantastic because of Kittle. He is the 49ers’ best run-blocker.
And he’s their best receiver, too. Opposing teams have to cover him with a strong safety, because linebackers can’t keep up, meaning opposing teams can’t double-cover both 49ers wide receivers. So Kittle makes the 49ers’ wide receivers more effective.
Plus he’ll be just 27 next season. Williams will be 32.
And Williams quit on Washington in 2019. Sat out the entire season. If a player quits once, it’s easier to quit twice. See: Joe Williams, the 49ers fourth-round pick in 2017, who retired in college, then returned and flopped in the NFL.
Kittle doesn’t seem like the type to quit or even hold out. He loves football too much. He plays hard no matter how little the 49ers pay him, and he always smiles when he’s on the field. He has an infectious enthusiasm and energy that elevates his teammates, which is why he’s the best player on the team and the face of the franchise -- not Jimmy Garoppolo.
Hard to replace the face of the franchise.
So which player would you pick to keep long term?
I’d pick Kittle, but I think the 49ers would pick Williams.
Remember, Shanahan and his father drafted Williams with the fourth pick in 2010 -- they love him. And Shanahan drafted Kittle in the fifth round, and believes he can scheme practically anyone open.
I think he thinks he can replace Kittle more easily than Williams.
What do you think?