As the receiver market pushes toward $30 million per year, another group of players who catch plenty of passes is languishing by comparison.
Asked simply to identify the tight end that impresses Kittle the most, Kittle started rattling off the credentials of Kelce — and Kittle raised the pay disparity unprompted. (In other words, I wasn’t trying to stir the shit. This time.)
“I mean Travis Kelce, six seasons in a row, 1000 yards,” Kittle said. “I’m pretty sure he has the most receiving yards over any wide receiver, skill position in the last six years. He gets paid half of what a wide receiver makes, which just boggles my mind. I mean, to me, Travis Kelce, he’s been doing it for so long and at such a high level. And he doesn’t have an off game. I think he has one bad game a year, and it’s just because he’s getting triple-teamed.
“He’s a player I look at like, when he gets the ball in his hands, he’s a monster. . . . More tight ends and more tight ends are starting to get the ball more, starting to be more part of the offense, be more explosive. [I] love watching Darren Waller. [I] love watching Mark Andrews. [Zach] Ertz is really fun now down in Arizona. That’s just fun to see him just kind of dominate, getting a lot of touchdowns. [T.J.] Hockenson, [Robert] Tonyan. There’s all these tight ends that are explosive and fun to watch, but Kelce — when you have six 1.000 yards in a row, you’re hell of a football player.”
After Kittle went to the difference between receiver and tight end pay, I followed. I asked him about the gap, which has Kelce’s former Kansas City teammate Tyreek Hill at $30 million per year (it’s more like $25 million, but nevertheless) and Kelce at under $15 million annually.
“Every NFL team . . . that’s won a Super Bowl or been to the Super Bowl for like the last five years has had an All-Pro tight end a part of the team,” Kittle said. “I feel a tight end’s not just like a cog in the wheel, it’s an important position that can really add to your offense or diminish it.”
Kittle currently makes $15 million per year. He’s clearly one of the most important pieces of the San Francisco offense. So if the 49ers manage to make receiver Deebo Samuel happy with something close to $30 million per year, will the team be getting a relative bargain, dollar for dollar?
Putting it another way, would you want Hill or Samuel at full retail, or Kelce or Kittle at half the price?
Chances are that bargains like this may not last long. Given that there simply aren’t the same supply of tremendous tight ends in every draft (unlike receiver), the best ones necessarily become more valuable. It seems like just a matter of time before the market adjusts to reflect that fact, especially in comparison to receivers.