Re-Signing Juszczyk Would Insure 49ers in Event Kittle Becomes Too Expensive
Although it’s unclear what George Kittle’s newest contract will be, it’s almost surely going to be an extension with San Francisco. Kittle and 49ers management both have voiced their desire to get a deal done.
Kittle is vital to the 49er offense and might be the most important non-quarterback in the NFL. His All-Pro receiving and blocking make him one of a kind. As witnessed last season, it’s hard to generate offensive fluidity without Kittle on the field.
Despite the high likelihood that Kittle remains in Santa Clara for the foreseeable future, there will be doubt until pen is put to paper.
One way to ease some minds, and soften the blow of a Kittle contract breakdown, would be to re-sign fullback Kyle Juszczyk. The Swiss Army Knife also will be a free agent after the 2020 season and is critical to the 49ers offense.
This is not to say Juszczyk is a perfect replacement for Kittle and the 49ers can play hardball with their tight end. San Francisco should give Kittle pretty much whatever he wants. But by locking up Juszczyk, the 49ers maintain some offensive versatility while freeing up cap space.
By extending Juszczyk, the 49ers not only retain one of their best blockers, but also an elite route runner and receiver. He’s able to line up anywhere and still pose a threat to the defense.
An example of the game-changing versatility Juszczyk brings was the week 17 battle at Seattle.
The Seahawks’ first touchdown, late in the third quarter, seemed to give all the momentum to the home team. But Shanahan had other ideas. On the first play of the next drive, Juszczyk lined up in the slot and blew past linebacker Mychal Kendricks for a 49-yard gain. Four plays later, his block freed up Raheem Mostert for the touchdown.
Despite missing four games, he still had 239 receiving yards in 2019. On a team filled with very young wide receivers, Juszczyk adds a reliable security blanket for Jimmy Garoppolo, averaging 10 yards per target last season.
Deservedly so, Juszczyk has the highest salary-cap hit ($6.7 million) among fullbacks. But the next two closest combined, Baltimore’s Patrick Ricard ($4.633 million) and Pittsburgh’s Derek Watt ($2.083 million), just barely eclipse that number.
Now, $6.7 million for a fullback is a lot against the cap. But that’s what it took to bring top talent to Santa Clara before 2019. The 49ers were severely lacking in talent and had a rookie head coach. They had to overpay free agents in order to attract them to a losing team.
Kyle Shanahan’s first step toward erasing the old regime was the high-priced signing of Juszczyk.
Both the 49ers and Shanahan have since skyrocketed to the upper-tier of the NFL, and Juszczyk was a major player in that. But with the increase in both roster talent and franchise expectations, the 49ers need to continue to shave down their salary cap. One way to do this would be to model Juszczyk’s contract after Ricard’s two-year, $7.302 million.
A new deal would keep Juszczyk among the league’s highest-paid, while granting a little more payroll flexibility for the 49ers.