© Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
There are two clear financial dilemmas for the 49ers to sort out in the short term: George Kittle’s impending monumental contract extension, and Raheem Mostert’s trade request following an apparent denial of a request for a raise.
A few things are likely holding up, or at least, playing into the discernibly slow pace of Kittle’s extension talks. The 49ers are a notoriously hard-bargaining team when it comes to negotiations and try to make contracts as easy to cut as possible. If a player gets a lot of guaranteed money, it tends to up front, or the team will later restructure the deal for a lessened cap hit.
Kittle also plays a position which has suffered from a contract standpoint from the fact that there are only a handful of elite, game-changing tight ends. He is in an echelon with only Travis Kelce as company, and there’s no clear financial foundation for what he’s worth.
It’s also a physically demanding position, and he admitted he’s played through a torn labrum for the last two years (and declined surgery this offseason) in addition to the injuries (ankle/foot fracture and knee injury) he suffered last season. Kittle himself may not be injury prone, but his position tends to have a shorter shelf life than, say, receivers, who make the type of money Kittle is looking for.
There’s also the whole global pandemic issue and the very real possibility that the already tightly-capped 49ers will face either a decrease in next year’s salary cap, or the same number. The NFLPA proposed that any COVID-19-related losses from this season, which could be around 40 percent lost revenue per team. And that’s assuming there’s a vaccine in late 2020 or 2021, which allows for the return of fans in 2021.
Mostert, meanwhile, wanted about a $1.4 million raise to be in line with Tevin Coleman’s salary, despite having two years left on his deal and playing one of the most devalued positions in the NFL on a team which replaces them as efficiently as just about any other team.
How does legendary 49ers quarterback Steve Young see this all playing out? He joined Tolbert, Krueger and Brooks to break it down on Thursday.
All of this contract and financial talk reminded Young about how New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft picked the brains of 49ers higher-ups like Bill Walsh, Eddie DeBartolo and Carmen Policy, to figure out how they continued to consistently build championship rosters. It was through a sometimes brutal, but necessary “sharp knife” style of decision-making.
Sometimes, Young said, that means you lose players you’re not ready to lose, like with DeForest Buckner. That won’t happen, he said, with Kittle.
“As a fan, you’re going to have to get used to having things that shock you, but you’re going to have to trust them, and you’re going to you have to trust them until they lose your trust,” Young said. “Right now they have our trust. And I think that right now, they seem to be doing everything very disciplined to make sure that they put a great team out there, but unfortunately you’re going to see guys leave when you’re not ready for it, but it won’t be George Kittle, there’s no way that that can happen.”
How much will the 49ers’ end up having to pay to Kittle? It won’t be standard tight end money, Young said, but probably a mix of that top end tight end and wide receiver money. According to OverTheCap, Julio Jones has the highest wide receiver cap hit at $20.42 million this year, with the Jets’ Jamison Crowder, at a $10 million cap hit, the 22nd highest-paid wide receiver. To put that in perspective, there are just three tight ends with plus-$10 million cap hits this year in Hunter Henry ($10.61 million), Travis Kelce ($11.22 million) and Zach Ertz ($12.48 million).
“No matter how you cut the data, it’s proven; George Kittle is one of most talented players in the league and most productive. They’re going to have to pay him as a wide receiver, they’re going to have to and George knows that,” Young said. “The problem is, there might be a hybrid. I agree, he’s not gonna he’s not gonna necessarily make every dollar that a wide receiver makes, but he’s not going to get too trapped into a tight end spot.”
With Mostert, Young warned that he could be jeopardizing an absolutely perfect situation. He had earlier pointed to when his 49ers let running back Ricky Watters go in free agency and it backfired for both parties in terms of playoff success.
“I think that 49er players should recognize that this is one of the best places to be, and it’s a unique space and time right now,” Young said. “And that you can take a little bit less. You need to get your worth and you need to battle, and it doesn’t mean that you just curl up in a fetal position but you also recognize that there’s something special about who you are.
Raheem Mostert: Do you think he’ll really thrive, the way he did this year with the 49ers anywhere else? And that’s why I wonder if he doesn’t come back and say, ‘Look what will you give me?’ And if it doesn’t work, then it doesn’t work, that’s fine. But sometimes to go prove them wrong, when you’ve got a unique situation and a unique kind of support system, you’ve got to be super careful.”
Listen to the full interview below. He talks about the Kittle contract at the 10:07 mark, and Mostert at the 18:14 mark.