Pay Kittle: Why the Handling of His Extension is a Defining Moment for John Lynch
Between 2017 and 2019, John Lynch has made 27 draft selections. All things considered, there has not been a better draft pick than George Kittle.
Kittle is right up there with Terrell Owens (1996 draft: 3rd round - 89th overall) and Frank Gore (2006 draft: 3rd round - 65th overall) as being one of the greatest offensive draft steals in the history of the franchise.
Owens is a Hall of Famer, many feel Gore will end up in the Hall of Fame, and Kittle, well, he is off to a Hall of Fame start.
Outside of Kittle, Lynch’s 2017 draft class has been pretty terrible. Just read the names:
- Round 1 - 3rd overall: Solomon Thomas
- Round 1 - 31st overall: Reuben Foster
- Round 3 - 66th overall: Ahkello Witherspoon
- Round 3 - 104th overall : CJ Beathard
- Round 4 - 121st overall: Joe Williams
- Round 5 - 146th overall: George Kittle
- Round 5 - 177th overall : Trent Taylor
- Round 6 - 198th overall: DJ Jones
- Round 6 - 202nd overall: Pita Taumoepenu
- Round 7 - 229th overall: Adrian Colbert
Kittle practically single-handedly makes up for this draft class. So how will Lynch repay him for it? For the first time, the pressure is on Lynch to hand out an extravagant contract extension to one of his own hand-picked gems. His first hand-picked gem.
Regardless of the outcome, the handling of Kittle’s extension, or lack thereof, will be a defining moment for Lynch as a general manager.
Why the handling of Kittle’s extension is a defining moment for Lynch:
Make no mistake, this is different from the DeForest Buckner situation. Buckner was a tremendous interior defensive lineman for the team and one of the best in the league, but at the end of the day he was a Trent Baalke holdover.
The same can’t be said for Kittle. The first thing that Lynch and Shanahan did right together was draft the then 23-year old tight end from Iowa. In three seasons, Kittle has emerged as a super star, team captain, locker-room favorite, fan favorite and poster boy for this new brand of 49ers football. He is a huge reason why the 49ers have successfully turned things around as quickly as they have.
Kittle is what Lynch and Shanahan want every player to embody when representing the organization. This is the most important contract the new regime has had to negotiate to date. So many things are at stake, from on-field impact to team morale.
No matter what happens, one day the handling of this situation will be looked at as a monumental moment of Lynch’s role as GM. This is a huge deal.
There have been rumblings of Kittle’s extension being as low as $13 million per-year, while as high as $18 million per-year. If he’s set on the latter, the team would be foolish to let him walk over a $5 million dollar difference.
Why $18 million is realistic:
It has been quite some time since a top-three player at the position has signed a contract extension. Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce, and Zach Ertz all signed their extensions at least four years ago, if not longer. As a result, the tight end market is behind its time.
Top tight-end contracts, in dollars (via Spotrac):
- Rob Gronkowski - 6 year - $54 million (signed June 2012)
- Travis Kelce - 5 year - $46 million (signed January 2016)
- Zack Ertz - 5 year - $42.5 million (signed January 2016)
- Austin Hooper - 4 year - $42 million (signed March 2020)
- Cameron Brate - 6 year - $40 million (signed March 2018)
It seems reasonable to believe that if Kelce were to receive his contract extension in this day and age, it’d be around the $14-16 million range. A contract like that would put Kelce in the annual salary range of receivers like: Allen Robinson ($14 mil), Stefon Diggs ($14.4 mil), Davante Adams ($14.5 mil), Jarvis Landry ($15.1 mil), and Adam Thielen ($16 mil). That is an extremely fair range for Kelce.
Austin Hooper just signed a contract that gives him $10.5 million annually.
- Austin Hooper since 2018: 146 catches - 1,447 yards - 10 touchdowns
- George Kittle since 2018: 173 catches - 2,430 yards - 10 touchdowns
Kittle’s numbers in the pass game are far superior to Hooper. Last season, the Falcons threw a league-high, 65.4% of the time. The 49ers threw the second least. Imagine the numbers Kittle would put up in a pass-happy offense, like the one Hooper has been a part of for the last several years.
In addition to the pass game, Kittle is a much better run blocker than Hooper. Kittle received a 78.2 run block grade from Pro Football Focus (PFF), while Hooper only received a 56.2 grade. Not to mention, Kittle was PFF’s Player of the Year.
The 49ers could certainly use the current tight end market to their benefit, and point to the outdated contracts of Gronkowski, Kelce, and Ertz. If that's the case, Kittle should point right to the updated market where slightly above-average tight ends like Hooper get $10.5 million annually.
Tight ends like Hooper are a dime-a-dozen, while tight ends like Kittle are transcendent talents. He brings far more to the table than your traditional tight end, especially on a run-first team. Kittle is your No. 1 threat through the air, and an absolute road grader on the ground.
He has every right to argue over and over again that he deserves to be paid as well as some of the best wide outs in the game.
Regardless of position, a player who has an upper echelon impact on each and every down should be compensated their worth. Kittle is easily worth the same contract as some of the top receivers.
Top receiver contracts, in annual salaries (via Spotrac)
- Julio Jones - 3 year - $22 million per (signed September 2019)
- Amari Cooper - 5 year - $20 million per (signed March 2020)
- Michael Thomas - 5 year - $19.25 million per (signed July 2019)
- Odell Beckham Jr - 5 year - $18 million per (signed August 2018)
- Tyreek Hill - 3 year - $18 million per (signed September 2019)
Pound-for-pound, snap-for-snap, Kittle impacts the game as much as any of the receivers above. Not to mention, his receiving numbers are right up there with the best of them.
Since 2018, Kittle has more receiving yards than three of the top five paid receivers in regards to annual salary. Kittle’s 2,430 receiving yards rank 6th behind only: Michael Thomas, Julio Jones, Mike Evans, DeAndre Hopkins, and Travis Kelce. Kittle’s 81 receiving yards per game rank 1st among all tight ends, and 8th among all positions.
Plain and simple, Kittle is arguably a top-five difference maker among all skill positions in the NFL. Compensate him as such.
Looking at the 49ers roster, the majority of the team’s most important players are already locked up:
- Jimmy Garoppolo - three years left
- Deebo Samuel- three years left
- Mike McGlinchey- three years left (including fifth-year option)
- Nick Bosa - fours years left (including fifth-year option)
- Fred Warner - two years left
A Kittle extension, even one in the $18 million range, would not jeopardize the team’s ability to retain it’s young nucleus. However, it could present challenges when looking to bring back the veteran services of Trent Williams and Richard Sherman.
Given how well Justin Skule and Daniel Brunskill played tackle last season, and considering Sherman’s age, Kittle being the highest priority of pending free agents is a no-brainer.
What the message sends, if the 49ers and Kittle do / do not agree on an extension.
As long as the asking price is realistic, meeting Kittle’s contract demands would send sensational vibes throughout the organization. After seeing what unfolded with Buckner, Kittle signing a contract extension would be a huge relief for the young stars within the organization.
The Nick Bosas and Fred Warners of the world shouldn’t have to worry about if one day they’ll be shipped off like Buckner, after they establish themselves as one of the best at their positions.
On the other hand, going into the upcoming season without an extension in place casts an immediate cloud over everything else going on. It'll be the topic of discussion, and can be a major distraction.
Not paying Kittle what he deserves shows that the team will not bend in negotiations, over any player. If the 49ers refuse to pay Kittle without batting an eye and potentially move on from him, they’re making it clear nobody is safe. A message like that would send ripple effects throughout the locker room.
The worst thing that could happen is the team parts ways with Kittle because of a $5 million dollar difference. We’re talking about one of the best players in the NFL. Losing Buckner and potentially Kittle, two guys who do everything the right way, is not a trend that should continue. The money is there. Just stop overpaying guys like Jerick McKinnon, Tevin Coleman, and Weston Richburg.
The NFL is a business, but Lynch and Shanahan have created a family. The 49ers locker room is as tight as there is in football, and Kittle is the heart beat of it all.
“Brick by brick” has been the mantra for years now, and Kittle was one of the first bricks laid down to build this strong foundation. Hell, he might as well count as five bricks to make up for the complete misses of Thomas, Foster, Beathard, and Williams.
When you remove parts of the foundation, your structure gets weaker. Keep the structure strong. Pay Kittle.
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