Describing George Kittle’s path to superstardom as unexpected would be a vast understatement.
The tight end was a three-star prospect in high school that barely got any Division I offers.
Scouts gave him a grade of backup/special teamer when he declared for the 2017 NFL draft.
But in just three short years, Kittle went from an unheralded fifth-round pick for the San Francisco 49ers to a record-breaking, All-Pro player.
He set the single-season receiving yard record by a tight end (1,377) in 2018 with a slew of backup quarterbacks.
His 2,945 receiving yards in his first three years in the league is the most in tight end history.
Now, he can add the largest contract ever to that list.
— NFL (@NFL) August 13, 2020
Before his deal, Hunter Henry had the highest annual average for a tight end with $10.6 million, though that came via the franchise tag.
Austin Hooper held the record for the largest contract for the position when he signed a four-year, $42 million deal with the Cleveland Browns earlier this offseason.
Travis Kelce agreed to a four-year $57.25 million extension immediately after Kittle’s deal, thus cementing the latter’s status as the best and most compensated at his position.
Resetting the Market by Redefining the Position
As contracts for quarterbacks and pass rushers have become increasingly inflated, tight ends had yet to see that same exponential growth.
Admittedly, the position is more expendable than others, but the market had stagnated for quite a while.
However, no other tight end since prime Rob Gronkowski provides the same versatility and dominance as Kittle has in the last few seasons.
He is the complete package worthy of this groundbreaking deal.
While some tight ends only specialize in one facet of the game, Kittle seems to do everything well.
He manufactures yards at a ridiculous rate, breaking through tackles and running through defenders.
Only 2 TEs have 700+ receiving yards after contact since 2018:
🔹 George Kittle – 1,494
🔹 Travis Kelce – 977 pic.twitter.com/b9NO20GAwQ
— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) August 7, 2020
George Kittle: only TE/WR to force 20 missed tackles in 2019 pic.twitter.com/BsXohYeTbm
— PFF (@PFF) June 8, 2020
And while his receiving chops are superb, it is his blocking that might be even more valuable.
“The unit averaged 4.8 yards per carry, 156 rush yards per game, and tallied 23 rush touchdowns with No. 85 in the lineup in 2019, according to Next Gen Stats,” NFL analyst Bucky Brooks said. “The 49ers mustered just 2.6 yards per carry, 60.5 rush yards per game, and failed to score a rushing touchdown in the two games without Kittle last year.”
The 49ers offense is reliant on the ground game, and Kittle plays a crucial role in their efficiency.
His ability to neutralize pass rushers and create lanes for teammates makes him the most complete player at his position.
It was only a matter of time before Kittle flipped the market on its head.
Reactions From Around the League
Shortly after the deal became announced, positive reactions came swarming in.
Teammate Richard Sherman was one of several 49ers to praise the tight end.
Well deserved!!! Best in the business https://t.co/tOliOTJhiO
— Richard Sherman (@RSherman_25) August 13, 2020
Kyle Rudolph of the Minnesota Vikings was happy to see his fellow tight ends get paid.
— Kyle Rudolph (@KyleRudolph82) August 13, 2020
Atlanta Hawks star point guard, Trae Young, who grew up in the same city as Kittle, also sent a congratulatory message.
— Trae Young (@TheTraeYoung) August 13, 2020
Even Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson got in on the action.
— Dwayne Johnson (@TheRock) August 15, 2020
Kittle was ecstatic about his pay raise but was equally as excited to move past contract discussions.
“I don’t have to worry about anything. I can just go out there and focus on football, which is the best job in the world,” Kittle said. “Now I’m taken care of and my family’s taken care of and now I can just focus on that…I can just go out there and play football and run through someone’s face and I’m really excited about that.”
With his financial situation secure, Kittle can now devote his energy to bringing a Lombardi Trophy back to San Francisco.