George Kittle cites 49ers' captaincy, leadership as holdout deterrents


The 49ers are scheduled to open training camp late this month.

But will the team’s best player be in Santa Clara when it’s time for the team to step on the field?

All-Pro tight end and team captain George Kittle has one season remaining on the four-year contract he signed as a fifth-round draft pick in 2017.

After making $645,000 last season, his salary bumps up to $2.133 million this season due to the NFL’s proven-performer escalator. The NFL’s highest-paid tight end is Cleveland’s Austin Hooper at $10.5 million a season. Kittle is expected to become the highest-paid tight end in the league by a large margin with his next contract.

Kittle and the 49ers are eligible to work out a multi-year extension this offseason, but it does not appear the sides have made much progress toward a new deal. Kittle’s contract situation leaves open the possibility he could hold out of camp if the sides do not reach an agreement before camp is scheduled to open on July 28.

While on a conference call Wednesday to bring awareness to Gatorade’s “Beat the Heat” program, Kittle addressed the topic when NBC Sports Bay Area asked him about the possibility of a holdout.

“Being a captain, I want to be there for my team and I need to show the right leadership skills,” Kittle said.

[RELATED: Mostert asks 49ers for trade after 'unproductive talks']

Kittle deferred all other questions about his contract situation to his agent, Jack Bechta.

Bechta spoke with NBC Sports Bay Area last month. Without getting into specifics, he said there is no reasonable comparison for Kittle, who is an elite pass-catcher as well as a blocker.

“George is a very special player. He needs a special contract,” Bechta said. “And those things take time for both sides. It’s a nice problem for everybody to have.

“At the end of the day, I trust the Niners will do the right thing and take good care of George, as they should. But I trust the process. I won’t comment where we’re at, or numbers or anything like that. But hopefully it gets done.”

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