George Kittle is going to be the highest-paid tight end in football. How much Kittle will ultimately make remains unknown, especially since the San Francisco 49ers All-Pro tight end wants to reset the market in his own way.
The Athletic's Matt Barrows reports Kittle ultimately could land a contract worth $13 million a year, making him easily the highest-paid tight end in the game. Hunter Henry is currently the highest-paid tight end in yearly salary, but he's playing on the franchise tag at $10.607 million this year. Austin Hooper has the highest average annual salary for tight ends on multi-year contracts, earning $10.5 million per season (he signed a four-year, $42 million deal in free agency).
Like Hooper, Kittle is also 26 years old but is arguably the best tight end in the game after just three seasons. Kittle's 2,945 receiving yards are the second-most among tight ends over the past three seasons (since he entered the league) and his 13.63 yards per catch is the second-highest among his position (min. 250 targets). Kittle has 173 catches for 2,430 yards and 10 touchdowns over the past two seasons, both Pro Bowl appearances (third in receptions and second in receiving yards over that span). He also set the single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end in 2018 with 1,377.
While Kittle clearly deserves to be the highest-paid tight end in football, $13 million may be a starting point instead of a final number. Kittle is looking for a deal beyond that number, a contract that sets his pay rate among the top left tackles and wide receivers -- as his agent calls "a George Kittle deal."
As former NFL agent and CBS Sports NFL writer Joel Corry points out, the long-term contracts of the NFL's 15 highest-paid pass catchers, all wide receivers, average approximately $16.375 million per year with close to $45 million in overall guarantees. While Kittle receiving a contract over $16 million a season is highly unlikely, that may be what the tight end is shooting for as he looks to reset the market for tight ends.
A diminished salary cap in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic won't help Kittle reach his demands, but another dominant season could enhance his case for more money from the 49ers.
Kittle is getting to the point where if San Francisco doesn't pay him, another team will -- a scary thought for a team that needs him to win a championship.