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?
They traded DeForest Freaking Buckner. They would trade anyone.