Anavarathan: 49ers' free-agent moves setting up for massive George Kittle extension
"I will be back here. And I will be back with a motherf****** vengeance. You will not get the best of me. No sir." These were the words muttered under tight end George Kittle's breath, as he watched his offense botch a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl 54.
San Francisco's best player watched helplessly from the sideline as his first taste of the Lombardi Trophy was snatched away by Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes' late-game heroics. But I don't think Kittle's words will ring hollow in the upcoming seasons.
The 49ers made the Super Bowl a year before they were expected to take off and have assembled a roster that will be in championship contention in near future. This offseason was an important milestone for San Francisco, as many of their key pieces were either free agents or due for contract extensions.
The moves that John Lynch, Paraag Marathe and the 49ers' front office were going to execute in the Spring of 2020 were going to have a ripple effect over the roster in the coming years. But as we put the clues together after a week of free agency, it's clear what San Francisco's front office is setting up to do -- re-sign George Kittle to a massive extension.
Here's what San Francisco's brain trust has accomplished in the first week, clearing the way to ensure that George Kittle stays as a member of the 49ers for the foreseeable future.
Trade DL DeForest Buckner to the Colts for the 2020 No. 13 overall pick
Re-sign DL Arik Armstead (5 years, $85M, $48.5M gtd)
Re-sign S Jimmie Ward (3 years, $28.5M, $16.5M gtd)
Re-sign DL Ronald Blair (1 year)
Re-sign OL Shon Coleman (1 year)
Re-sign C Ben Garland (1 year, $2.25M)
Sign G Tom Compton (1 year, $3M)
Tender WR Kendrick Bourne (1 year, $3.259M)
Tender RB Matt Breida (1 year, $3.259M)
Release OL Mike Person
Per Over the Cap, the 49ers currently have $16,756,290 in cap space, not accounting for the Blair, Compton and Coleman signings.
As it stands, the 49ers' rookie class will account for $8,162,326, assuming San Francisco does not add any additional draft picks beyond the seven that they currently have.
This means that San Francisco still has $8,593,964 available to spend on free agents -- though I doubt that they would want to spend all of it and get really close to the salary cap ceiling. Don't worry, there are other moves that Lynch and Marathe can execute in order to free up space.
If San Francisco is willing to part with wideout Marquise Goodwin and running back Tevin Coleman, they can free up an additional $9,150,000 of cap room. That will bring their spending war chest total to $17,743,964.
Immediately, the first thought for most 49ers' fans would be to bring back fan-favorite Emmanuel Sanders, but he's reported to be taking meetings with other teams and isn't looking to take a home-town discount.
With the added draft capital via the Buckner trade, I firmly believe that the 49ers can address their wide receiver needs in the first round -- whether it be Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb or Henry Ruggs III.
The next priority for San Francisco's front office shouldn't be to add other free agents -- but to lock down one of their own. Kittle's salary cap hit in 2020 is $2,207,574, but if San Francisco was to extend Kittle this offseason that number would certainly go up because he was a fifth-round pick on a fairly cheap deal.
So what should we expect as a potential contract for the NFL's best tight end?
Austin Hooper signed the NFL's largest contract for a tight end, four years for $42M, with $23M guaranteed up front. Kittle's in a tough spot because he's the best at a position where the market hasn't been known to pay a significant amount of guaranteed cash.
The former Iowa product is clearly too valuable for the 49ers to let him walk into a contract year without the insurance of future years with the team. The front office rarely lets franchise players wait till their free-agent year -- as it's the easiest way to lose leverage against the player and overpay for them.
I think San Francisco can present Kittle with an offer for four years, $60M, where $35M of it is fully guaranteed. It shatters the existing market, while it's still a team-friendly value for their most important player.
Depending on how the 49ers choose to structure that deal, Kittle's cap can rise from $2,207,574 to approximately $10M. Once Kittle's cap number has been determined for 2020, the 49ers should use the extra space on remaining free agents. I don't think the front office should handcuff themselves by signing outside free agents before Kittle's cap number has been calculated.
San Francisco's front office has been prudent through the first week of free agency, re-signing a majority of their own players, adding a valuable draft asset and opening up some salary cap space to extend George Kittle.
Now the most important thing is to put pen to paper and ensure that the team's most valuable player stays in Santa Clara for the long term.
(Cover Image Source: Associated Press)