There has not been the usual wave of NFL contract extensions this summer amid COVID-19 uncertainties, but there have been a few notable deals that have reset the market at two offensive positions.
First, there was Christian McCaffrey’s four-year extension with the Carolina Panthers for more than $64 million back in April.
Both deals came in atop their respective positions. McCaffrey’s average-per-year salary of just over $16 million was more than $1 million greater than the contract Ezekiel Elliott signed with the Dallas Cowboys. And Mahomes completely nuked the QB scale; his $45 million-per-year average is $10 million more than the next man on the list, the Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson.
It’s possible we have another position-topping deal coming down the pike, too.
San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle is currently the 70th-highest paid tight end in the NFL — even behind a few rookies who have yet to play an NFL snap — at a paltry $2.3 million for the 2020 season. It’s the final year of his rookie deal as he gets set to hit free agency in 2021.
Could Kittle be in line for an extension this summer? Perhaps.
We spoke with Kittle on Wednesday, but he avoided the question, preferring to express his amazement at the contract Mahomes, his opponent in Super Bowl LIV, just signed.
“Mind-boggling might be understating it,” Kittle told us by phone, promoting Gatorade’s Beat the Heat program. “It’s just hard to wrap my head around it honestly. I mean, he deserves every penny. He’s a tremendous football player, and everything I’ve heard about him is amazing.
“Other than that, I won’t talk much about my contract. My agent can certainly fill you in on all of the details and all that.”
(A call to Kittle’s agent, Jack Bechta, was not returned as of Thursday.)
Kittle added: “But all I do know is that tight ends usually don’t get paid like quarterbacks do, sadly.”
He’s right about that. Tight end is one of the lowest-paid positions on average, ahead of only running back and fullback. But the idea of Kittle signing a position-busting contract is not an absurd one at all.
Doing the math on a Kittle contract extension could look like
McCaffrey’s deal, on a per-year average, was about 6.8 percent higher than Elliott’s deal, which had previously paced the market for running backs. But Mahomes’ contract was 28.6 percent higher on a per-year basis than Wilson’s previous high.
Right now, the Los Angeles Chargers’ Hunter Henry paces the TE market on a per-year basis at $10.6 million, but that’s on the one-year franchise tender. Right behind him is new Cleveland Browns tight end Austin Hooper, who signed a four-year, $42 million deal — a $10.5 million per-year average.
If Kittle and Bechta were to ask the 49ers for a Mahomes-ian percentage bump to that annual average, the number comes out to exactly $13.5 million per year.
On the surface, it’s not an outrageous ask. Fourteen wide receivers currently surpass that APY salary, with two more right at the $13 million mark. Kittle finished the 2019 season 23rd in receiving yards (in only 14 games, missing time with a foot injury) and ranked eighth in that category in 2018.
Factor in his excellent blocking, and Kittle might be the best all-around tight end in the NFL. League executives recently told ESPN that he was the NFL’s best at the position, just ahead of the Kansas City Chiefs’ Travis Kelce.
Recent speculation among 49ers beat reporters suggests that Kittle could opt to hold out or not report to the start of camp with a new deal in mind. Kittle wouldn’t bite when we asked if that was an option. But at a lower-paid position, especially with injuries holding Kittle back in college and the NFL, it’s certainly one option to make his stance heard heading into the final year of his deal.
Kittle helping kids stay hydrated
Kittle is working with Gatorade with their “Beat The Heat” program, which seeks to “educate coaches, athletes and parents about the importance of hydration to help keep athletes safe and understand they need to replace what they lose in sweat.”
Although Kittle said he’s been gulping Gatorade since elementary school, he’s only recently taken his hydration seriously. It’s especially hit home for him since entering the NFL.
“This program resonates with me because I work out in the heat, especially in the offseason in Nashville,” he said. “It’s tailored to young athletes who might not understand how simple it can be to check the color of your (urine). You can get to the point where you don’t even think about it.
“I check mine regularly, and if it’s too dark, it just means I need some Gatorade.”
Kittle wishes he was more aware of his hydration levels earlier in life and thinks it could have helped him with his performance and recovery. And it’s something he’s taking seriously now as a pro.
“If kids can learn that early on they can prevent dehydration and prevent bad things from happening when they play sports,” he said. “If you’re dehydrated after a workout, you can’t recover at a high level. It might seem like a silly thing, but it’s a serious matter.”
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