49ers GM ‘really hopeful’ about George Kittle long-term contract, but says it’s ‘tricky’

Jan 19, 2020; Santa Clara, California, USA; San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle (85) reacts against the Green Bay Packers during the first half in the NFC Championship Game at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers are working hard to come to a long-term contract agreement with star tight end George Kittle, but it’s not easy. With many different challenges at play, general manager John Lynch shared that it’s “tricky” but said he’s “really hopeful” a deal will get done soon.

NFL salary cap reduction due to COVID-19 makes Kittle contract talks more complicated

Lynch appeared on KNBR radio Tuesday morning and discussed the ongoing negotiations. He made it clear that the current financial situation the NFL finds itself in during the COVID-19 pandemic is playing a large role in how challenging things are right now.

Previously, the NFL had been expected to see the salary cap continue rising in 2021, as it has practically every year. Instead, the league could see the cap drop from $198.2 million this year all the way down to $175 million next year.

With other impending free agents to consider as well, the 49ers face a significant challenge, like other teams, while they attempt to lock Kittle up long term.

“Now we have that information,” Lynch said of next season’s cap (h/t Matt Barrows of The Athletic). “So we’ve traded ideas and things. And we’re really hopeful. We’re going to work extremely hard. George is such a great fit for what we do. He’s a tremendous player. (I’m) sitting here looking at the vision statement for what we want in a player. And George checks every box.”

Lynch was asked if he thought that Kittle would already have a contract extension if the pandemic hadn’t been a factor. He made it clear that he always knew it would be tricky: “I knew that it might be tricky because of, you know, the position that he plays and things of that nature — finding the right number,” Lynch said.

Could Kittle be looking to get paid like a top receiver?

There have been rumors that Kittle is looking to land a contract that looks more like what top receivers have gotten, rather than a top-of-the-market tight end deal. If that’s the case, then Kittle could be looking to score a contract in the $18-20 million-per-year range. Given the cap situation coming up in the next few years, that may not be reasonable.

His agent has made it clear that he’s negotiating a “Kittle deal,” rather than a tight end contract. Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in between what top receivers earn and what Austin Hooper landed in Cleveland this past offseason ($10.5 million per year on average).

John Lynch: George Kittle won’t hold out of 49ers training camp

Among the things he discussed, the general manager made it clear he does not expect Kittle to hold out of training camp.

“George is a pro,” Lynch said. “And he’s planning on coming (to training camp). And we’re going to continue to work. That’s our job to get that done. I’d be disappointed if we didn’t.”

Set to earn just $2.1 million this year without a new contract extension, Kittle is worth much, much more.