Kittle, 49ers have significant disconnect in contract talks

Perhaps John Lynch's optimism about getting George Kittle's deal done wasn't so rosy after all.

NFL Network's Mike Silver reported Friday on Inside Training Camp Live that a gap remains between the All-Pro tight end and the 49ers, noting that Kittle doesn't want to be considered a TE in terms of his contract.

"There remains a pretty significant disconnect philosophically between the 49ers and George Kittle's camp," Silver said. "The 49ers believe they want to reset the tight end market and give him a great tight end deal, and Kittle is kind of saying, 'I think I'm more than just a tight end.' It's been a really flat market at that position. Jimmy Graham was kind of the standard off his 2014 deal. Austin Hooper eclipsed that by a little bit this past March in free agency, but if you look at him as a tight end, yeah, George Kittle can reset the market, but George Kittle, who was just voted the seventh-best player in the league by his peers, and in my opinion has earned that distinction, is thinking, 'I don't want to be called a tight end for the purposes of these negotiations."

The divide between the sides is understandable.

The tight end market has been stagnant for years. Austin Hooper signed the largest long-term deal for a tight end this offseason, earning $10.5 million per year over the four-year pact. That franchise-tagged Hunter Henry, slated to make $10.67 million, sits atop the TEs market is telling. Thanks in part to Rob Gronkowski taking team-friendly deals in New England in previous years, the top of the tight ends market hasn't progressed as the salary cap has increased.

NFL teams abhor resetting position markets. But they especially loathe blowing them up.

From Kittle's perspective, you could see why he and his camp think basing his contract off the TE market is preposterous. The No. 7 player on the NFL's "Top 100 Players of 2020" list is far more than a TE. He's the 49ers' top target, a YAC machine, a bulldozing blocker and a team leader, and he generates 1.21 gigawatts of energy for San Francisco.

Lynch mentioned earlier this week that, now that the economic proposal between the NFL and NFLPA on how to handle the COVID-19 pandemic has mostly been finalized, he was more hopeful sides could work out a deal. Lynch noted it was a "tricky" contract.

That trickiness is in how each side views the market.

If the top TE would sit in the 20s of the WR market, it's understandable why Kittle would want to be viewed more in line with the multifaceted player he is than pigeonholed by position.

Kittle is set to earn $2.13 million in 2020 if sides can't bridge the gap on a new deal. It's a piddling number compared to his worth.

Lynch suggested that even without a new deal, Kittle would show up and continue to be a great teammate.

Silver, however, suggested another strategy is in play, one that could involve threatening to use the opt-out option if a deal doesn't come soon.

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