Will the 49ers do George Kittle the way they did DeForest Buckner?
Most of us sincerely expect the 49ers and George Kittle to agree to a long-term extension within the next eight months.
But at this time last year, most of us also sincerely expected the 49ers and DeForest Buckner to agree to an extension eventually. And they didn’t. Not even close.
Let me remind you what went down between Buckner and the 49ers. Ask yourself if Buckner’s story sounds similar to Kittle’s.
Buckner’s agent and the 49ers met after the 2018 season to discuss an extension. Buckner had just finished his third season in the NFL, and wanted more than $20 million per season. The 49ers apparently offered him significantly less -- probably $18 million or $19 million per season.
Neither side compromised. Buckner played out the fourth year of his rookie contract, which paid him $2.9 million in 2019.
After 2019, the 49ers could’ve kept Buckner by picking up the fifth-year option in his rookie contract, which would have paid him $12.9 million in 2020 -- a steal for Buckner. Then in 2021, the 49ers could have franchise tagged Buckner and paid him roughly $16 million -- still a bargain. Then, in 2022, when the NFL salary cap is expected to rise dramatically, the 49ers could have given Buckner the long-term extension he wanted, assuming he didn’t hate their guts by then.
But instead, they traded Buckner. They didn’t hold him hostage.
Doesn’t Kittle’s situation sound similar?
His agent and the 49ers met in February to discuss an extension, they didn’t come close to an agreement and reportedly haven’t made progress. Kittle says he won’t hold out, because he’s a captain and wants to lead by example. He also probably wants to keep his value high, because he knows big money will come to him eventually, and holding out would lower his perceived worth.
Next year, Kittle will be an unrestricted free agent. The 49ers could franchise tag him next year, but doing so might poison their relationship with Kittle. He might refuse to sign the tag.
Isn’t it possible the 49ers might trade Kittle next offseason, like they traded Buckner this offseason? The 49ers could trade Kittle for a first-round pick, and use it on the best tight end in the draft -- Pat Freiermuth from Penn State.
Let me be clear: I do not advise the 49ers to trade Kittle. They should extend him now. He’s a future Hall of Famer. But so is Buckner, potentially.
I can’t shake this feeling of deja vu.