Why the 49ers have Leverage Over George Kittle in Contract Negotiations

Grant Cohn

Here’s what I make of George Kittle’s contract negotiation with the 49ers, a negotiation which hasn’t progressed since February. Which means it’s not really a negotiation, is it?

1. Kittle's agent merely is doing his job.

And his agent, Jack Bechta, is good. Kittle didn’t hire him to give the 49ers a break or a discount. Bechta’s job is to get one of the best players in the NFL every penny he’s worth. And Kittle is worth so much more than all the other tight ends. Worth more than $13 million or $14 million per season.

Kittle is worth as much as the highest-paid wide receivers in the NFL. If Amari Cooper is worth $20 million per season, then Kittle is worth $21 million per season. Kittle understands this. His agent understands this. The agent simply is trying to do what Kittle hired him to do. It’s not Kittle’s fault the league undervalues tight ends.

2. The 49ers have the leverage.

Let’s say Kittle and his agent ask for $18 million per season for five years. That’s $90 million total. That’s Option A.

If that’s what Kittle wants and he won’t budge, the 49ers can present a counter offer. Call it Option B.

Instead of paying Kittle $18 million in 2020, they can pay him $2.1 million -- that’s what he’s under contract for. Then in 2021, when he’s an unrestricted free agent, the 49ers can give him the franchise tag, which pays tight ends roughly $10.6 million.

In 2022, the 49ers can give Kittle the franchise tag again. That would give him a 120-percent raise, and pay him $12.7 million.

And in 2023, the 49ers can give Kittle the franchise tag a third and final time. He would receive another 120-percent raise and earn $15.3 million. Then in 2024, when Kittle is 30, he can be a free agent. But the 49ers would have paid him only $39 million from 2020 to 2023, as opposed to $90 million for five years.

Option B sounds more appealing to the 49ers than Option A.

3. If the 49ers threaten to use the franchise tag, Kittle and his agent can try two things.

One: They can petition the league to re-classify Kittle as a WR, not a TE. And they’d have a good argument, because Kittle leads the 49ers in catches every season and rarely lines up at tight end with his hand in the dirt. He usually goes in motion or lines up in the slot as a wide receiver. Unfortunately for Kittle and his agent, Jimmy Graham tried to reclassify as a wide receiver when the Saints gave him the franchise tag, and the NFL shot him down. Said he was a tight end.

Two: Kittle can hold out. Meaning refuse to play. He might have to hold out for four years, but if the 49ers start 2-3 or 1-4 next season, they might just cave and give him the money he wants. Or they might do fine without him. It certainly seems they’ve prepared for him to hold out. They drafted a tight end in Round 6 this year -- Charlie Woerner. A blocking specialist like Kittle when Kittle entered the league. Remember, the 49ers took him in Round 5 of the 2017 draft

If Kittle won’t lower his contract demands, would the 49ers trade him?

Hell yes.

They traded DeForest Freaking Buckner. They would trade anyone.

Comments (4)
No. 1-4

Would you trade Kittle for, let’s say, Stephon Gilmour ?


Grant, I think you are spot on. This is about extending the super bowl window as long as possible. I love Kittle, I want him to play for the Niners his whole career. But this helps pay for other quality around him and makes it more likely he will win more.


Kittle has a play for the moment but not for the long run. No team in the league values kittle importance to a wr outside of SF, so he knows his only opportunity is to take a shot is right now. Free Agency could only be marginally better financially and he would not getting the types of touches he gets with shanahan. Hard stance, followed by a quick fold.


Silly...Dude is a known Niners hater. Kittle isn't gonna hold out because he's too much of a team player. The Niners aren't going to trade away their best player. Buckner was a totally different situation. The Niners are stacked at DT. No one player can do everything Buckner could do, but two guys could possibly do the job. One to play the run and one to provide the pass rush. There isn't any depth at TE on the team. Dwelley isn't close to Kittle as a pass catcher, route runner or blocker. Thinking that a rookie is gonna be able to come in and block at Kittle's level is a pipe dream at best, and lunacy at worst. The Niners should be able to pay Kittle 16.5 for the next 5 years. That would be 82.5 over 5 yrs, with let's say...45 of it guaranteed. The question is how will it be paid out because the team doesn't have a ton of cap space to front load his deal like they did in previous negotiations.