With the exception of stars like Rob Gronkowski and Tony Gonzalez, tight ends don’t get much attention. They are often invisible when blocking the pass rush, opening a lane for a running back, or serving as a decoy for wide receivers. But TEs are coming into their own again. Zach Ertz went 7-67-1 in Super Bowl LII to hand Tom Brady one of his worst defeats ever. Two years later, Travis Kelce helped the Chiefs hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
The tight end’s role in the NFL
Tight ends have to be receivers on some plays and guards on others. This severely restricts the body types that can do the job. It can be tough to find players talented enough (and built the right way) to succeed in both roles.
By the same token, it can be difficult to measure the extent to which a tight end helps their team. Some of the greatest blocking tight ends in history weren’t as adept at pass-catching as a Gonzalez or a Gronkowski, and they don’t have the gaudy numbers to make a Hall of Fame case. But Kittle excels at both roles to a nearly unprecedented degree.
George Kittle, the next great tight end
George Kittle is not only the next great TE, but might be one of the best all-around players of the 2020s in the NFL. The ninth tight end drafted in 2017, Kittle has gone from good to great in almost no time in the NFL. When Kelce and the Chiefs won SB LIV, they had to get past Kittle to do it.
The San Francisco 49ers haven’t won a Super Bowl since 1994. Colin Kaepernick nearly led them to victory in 2013 during the bizarre Blackout Bowl, but things fell through in the fourth quarter and the Ravens took the game.
With Jimmy G at the helm and talented receivers like Kittle sprinting down the field, the window has opened once again for San Francisco. Kittle is a franchise player and if San Francisco can keep him, they have the potential to make another Super Bowl run in the near future.
Throughout the first four years of his career, including 2020, Kittle has been on a fairly standard tight end contract. He’ll earn just north of $2 million this upcoming year, but Kittle has his eyes set on a much bigger prize.
Traditionally, tight ends haven’t earned the same amount as their wide receiver teammates despite having to “work two jobs” on the field. The flashy speed and impact of WRs leads to paychecks that can exceed $20 million a year. Currently, only Julio Jones and Amari Cooper have broken the $20 million/yr mark.
Kittle likely won’t get $20 million, or even $10 million a year. But the fact that it’s even under consideration by San Francisco means that Kittle is getting his wish. Compared to other skill positions, tight ends have been underpaid for decades. Kittle is preparing to become one of the biggest stars in the NFL over the next decade.
San Francisco may exhaust their franchise tags trying to keep a hold of Kittle, but he’ll test the free market soon or later if he doesn’t get the money he’s looking for. Kittle and his agent are aware of his skill and his potential in the NFL, and they’re going to do their best to get him paid. Interestingly, this might just be the moment other tight ends have been waiting for.