Why George Kittle might Accept $13 Million per Season from 49ers

Hard to imagine worse timing for Kittle to need an extension.

Poor George Kittle

Actually, “poor” is the wrong word. “Unlucky” fits better. Kittle eventually will sign an extension that will set him up financially for life. But the extension reportedly will pay him far less than he most likely could get on the open market.

According to the Athletic’s Matt Barrows, who talked to someone “in the know,” Kittle’s contract extension with the 49ers, if and when he signs it, will pay him roughly $13 million per season. Which sounds like a big number, until you realize he’d average less money than linebacker Kwon Alexander, who’s half the player Kittle is.

Kittle is the 49ers’ best player and the face of their franchise -- he should make more money than everyone except the quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo. Meaning Kittle should agree to no less than $17.2 million per season from the 49ers -- Dee Ford averages $17.1 million. Plenty of teams probably would love to pay Kittle more than $17 million per season if he becomes a free agent next year.

So why might Kittle accept $13 million per from the 49ers?

Simple: He has zero leverage.

If he demands $17 million per, the 49ers can force him to play out the final season of his rookie contract, which will pay him $2.2 million in 2020. Then in 2021, they can give him the franchise tag, which would pay him roughly $10 million. So he can either make $12 million the next two years, or $26 million. Big difference.

It gets worse for Kittle.

If he holds out for $17 million and refuses to play in 2020, he’ll lose an accrued season. Meaning when his contract expires in 2021, he’ll have played three accrued seasons, not four, so he’ll be a restricted free agent instead of an unrestricted free agent, and the 49ers will maintain his rights for another year.

It gets even worse for Kittle.

If the NFL cancels all games in 2020 -- unlikely, but certainly possible -- the salary cap will go down in 2021, and all teams would have less money to give Kittle. Plus, if there are no games, Kittle technically would lose an accrued season, as would every player, meaning the 49ers might keep Kittle’s rights through 2021 even if he doesn’t hold out.

Hard to imagine worse timing for Kittle to need an extension.

He needs to take what he can get.

Good news for the 49ers.