Would the 49ers trade George Kittle?
Sounds like an insane question. Kittle is one of the best players in the NFL, and he’s only 26. He is one of the 49ers’ foundational players and should finish his career with the franchise that drafted him.
But will he?
Consider the following:
1. The 49ers haven’t given Kittle an extension yet.
What are they waiting for? They should have signed him already. Kittle should be the 49ers’ top priority.
On Thursday morning, 49ers general manager John Lynch went on 95.7 The Game in San Francisco to reassure 49ers fans about Kittle’s future with the team.
“George isn’t going anywhere,” Lynch insisted. “We’re going to work hard to try to get it done. I think they’ve got motivation just to really reset the tight-end market, as do we, for him. It’s just finding that sweet spot.”
Meaning the 49ers and Kittle haven’t agreed to terms. Almost certainly, the 49ers want Kittle to lower his demands, and Kittle wants the 49ers to up their offer. Lynch wants to find a “sweet spot,” or a compromise.
Both parties agree that Kittle should be the highest-paid tight end in the NFL. But the current highest-paid tight end, Chargers’ Hunter Henry, makes $10.6 million per season. Kittle is worth much more than that.
Kittle is one of the five best skill position players in the NFL, meaning all tight ends, running backs and wide receivers. And the top wide receivers make at least $18 million per season. The Cowboys recently gave Amari Cooper a five-year, $100 million contract, or $20 million per season. Which means Kittle is worth at least $21 million per season.
How much of a discount should Kittle give the 49ers? They’ve paid him just $1.9 million since 2017, and he has played through broken ribs and a broken ankle.
Show him the money. He’s worth every penny.
2. The 49ers traded DeForest Freaking Buckner.
Had I told you in January the 49ers were planning to trade Buckner, you would have called me nuts.
But they did trade Buckner.
Buckner is an elite athlete, plus he’s durable, he works hard, he doesn’t complain and he’s a leader. He’s everything a team wants a player to be. Meaning he’s expensive.
The 49ers didn’t want to pay $20 million per season for a top defensive tackle. As good as Buckner is, they felt he just isn’t worth defensive-end money. So they traded him to the Colts for a first-round pick.
Will the 49ers use the same logic with Kittle? Is he just not worth wide-receiver money? Is he a mere tight end? Is he too good and too expensive to keep?
Who knows what the 49ers are thinking? But by trading Buckner, they essentially sent Kittle the following message: “Be reasonable. Don’t ask for too much money. We will trade anyone.”
3. The 49ers reportedly tried to sign tight end Austin Hooper.
The 49ers “made a run” at signing Hooper, according to NFL Network’s Mike Silver. Hooper signed with the Browns for $10.5 million per season -- the second highest average among tight ends.
There’s no way the 49ers could have afforded both Hooper and Kittle -- the Niners can’t even afford Buckner.
Were the 49ers sending Kittle another message? Do they feel he’s replaceable?
4. The 49ers traded for Trent Williams.
When Joe Staley told the 49ers he intended to retire, they could have drafted offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs with the 13th pick. He would have been a cheap, young left tackle on a rookie contract.
Instead, they traded for the best left tackle in the NFL, Trent Williams, who will be a free agent after 2020.
Williams came cheap -- the 49ers traded just a fifth-round pick this year and third-rounder next year. But keeping him will be expensive.
Laremy Tunsil, the highest-paid offensive tackle in the NFL, currently makes $22 million per season. How much will Williams want? If he wants $18 million, and Kittle wants $18 million, can the 49ers afford to pay both? And if not, whom will the 49ers choose to pay? The tight end, or the left tackle?
5. The 49ers have Kyle Shanahan.
And Shanahan believes he’s the star of the offense. Believes he can scheme anyone open.
Remember, Kittle was a fifth-round pick who caught just 48 passes in college. He was a blocking specialist. Maybe Shanahan feels he created Kittle. Maybe Shanahan feels he can create another one. Maybe Shanahan feels he can build an elite offense without paying a tight end, or any skill-position player, $18 million per season.
And maybe Shanahan is right. But he shouldn’t test that theory.
The 49ers should feel proud to give Kittle the money he wants. They should give him an extension today. No more talk. Get it done.