Kansas City Chiefs General Manager Brett Veach has earned the trust of all of us. Take your pick from the myriad of reasons why. Whether it was because of his role in drafting quarterback Patrick Mahomes or his construction of a Super Bowl champion, or a little bit of both, Veach has cemented himself as one of the best executives in all of football. With that said, there’s one forward-thinking move he can make now to avoid paying big later.
Extend Travis Kelce’s contract.
Kelce, who’s been arguably the best tight end in the NFL for a few years now, is set to enter the fourth season of a five-year, $46.8 million extension signed in 2016. His 2020 earnings — $9.4 million — make him the third-highest paid at his position, sitting just behind the Los Angeles Chargers’ Hunter Henry and the Cleveland Browns’ Austin Hooper.
Many will say, “Why does Kelce need to be extended now? His deal doesn’t run out until after the 2021 season.” While that’s accurate, there’s an external factor that should make a Kelce extension at least somewhat of a priority: San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle.
Kittle, who set the record for most receiving yards in a single season by a tight end back in 2018 — narrowly edging out Kelce — is a monster. The 6’4”, 250-pound unit is a top-two player at his position. Some may even argue that Kittle is better than Kelce due to his advantage in the run blocking department. That’s a fair take, although we who watch the Chiefs on a weekly basis know who’s actually the better player.
Kittle will turn 27 on Oct. 6. Kelce turns 31 the day before. Entering the final year of his rookie contract, the 49ers’ best offensive player wants a record-breaking deal. His agent, Jack Bechta, recently told NFL Network’s Mike Silver, “I don’t care about the tight end market, I’m being paid to do a George Kittle deal.” This is a bold statement, but it highlights just how special of a talent Kittle is. He wants to be paid alongside some of the game’s best wide receivers — topping the tight end market alone isn’t enough.
In the event negotiations with Kittle’s camp go south and the two sides can’t reach an agreement, San Francisco can always slap him with the franchise tag. That often leads to unhappy superstars, though, and both sides are currently on good terms. It’d be worth everyone’s while to just work out a deal. That presents a problem.
What if Kittle does completely reset the tight end market? There’s already talk about him making wideout-level money. A price tag ranging anywhere from $12-16 million isn’t out of the question, with something in the middle being most likely. That makes a future negotiation with Kelce all the more complicated and pricey.
Kelce’s age plays to the Chiefs’ advantage a bit. He only has a few “prime” seasons left, and his next long-term deal very well could be his last multi-year pact. In the fourth installment of his The Art of NFL Contracts series, Arrowhead Report’s Conner Christopherson broke down how a Kelce extension would not only make him happy and prolong his time in Kansas City, but it would also create a bit of immediate cap relief. Christopherson’s hypothetical contract carried base salaries of $11 million and $12 million for the 2022 and 2023 seasons, respectively. They also came with prorated signing bonuses of $3.5 million for each of those years.
Veach isn’t going to get much of a hometown discount if he waits to extend Kelce until the Kittle deal is either done or close to it. Being the savvy general manager that he is, it would be advantageous to begin contract talks sooner rather than later. Kelce wants to be a Chief for the rest of his career, so let’s hope the team can make it happen in a way that won’t be too detrimental to the salary cap.