The top NFL tight ends are finally getting the lucrative contracts they deserve for playing one of football’s most demanding positions at an elite level. Defining “highest-paid” players at the league at any position is complicated, depending the weight one puts on average annual salary, guaranteed money and total value.
The Chiefs’ Travis Kelce and the 49ers’ George Kittle got their new pricey deals from their teams last summer for their great receiving and blocking efforts. This year, right before the season, the Ravens’ Mark Andrews was locked up long-term to help further raise the bar.
Here’s a breakdown of how much each of those tight ends is set to earn and how long they are signed in relation to their closest peers at the position:
Travis Kelce contract details
Kelce has a team-friendly deal over the next two years through his age 33 season, with cap hits of $7.65 million for 2021 and $8.9 million in 2022. Over his deal, he has $1 million per season combined in roster and workout bonuses, plus a annual restructure bonus of $1.4 million. With no dropoff in his play yet at 31, the Chiefs are smart to make sure he’s connected with Patrick Mahomes through their current prime Super Bowl window. Should Kelce stay healthy and want to play into his mid 30s, Kansas City will work out a new deal. Kelce is only five months younger than Rob Gronkowski.
Mark Andrews contract details
Andrews turned 26 on Sept. 6 and celebrated the birthday by signing his deal that day. The Ravens needed to keep him around as Lamar Jackson’s most trusted go-to guy, taking care of him before taking care of the quarterback’s contract. Andrews operates like a wide receiver hybrid and has been a red zone force. He didn’t quite get to Kelce’s total value or Kittle’s guaranteed money, but by every metric, Andrews maximized his market potential.
The cap hit for Andrews is only $3.161 million in 2021, bumping up to $9.4 million next season and $13.4 million in 2023. His production over three years as a third-round pick in 2018 called for him being extended well before his rookie contract was to expire.
George Kittle contract details
Kittle is the king at tight end no matter how one looks at the contracts. As great as Kelce is, Kittle has more value to the 49ers as the superior run blocker and is quite younger, not turning 28 until Oct. 9. The only question in terms of return on investment is Kittle staying healthy; Kelce has a big advantage in the availability department. Along with what Andrews got this year, Kittle is setting the pace for the next wave of young veteran stars at the position, led by fellow former Iowa product T.J. Hockenson
NFL highest-paid tight ends
The top three are in good spots, but by Darren Waller’s absence on this list, this also says the Raiders got a bargain when they decided to lock him up two years ago at five years, $29.8 million. You can bet this list also might be motivation for renegotiation soon.
Smith and Henry were surprise double free agent splurges by the Patriots, trying to restore their strength with 12 personnel. They signed at the right time to 2021 with similar deals of different lengths. Likewise, Hooper was the big signing the offseason before to land here.
Pitts makes the list on his rookie contract. Gronkowski keeps producing at a discount rate in his return from retirement.
NFL tight end salaries: Guaranteed money
Kitle and Andrews confirm the respective strength of their deals here. Pitts’ number is over four years as part of the typical rookie contract structure.
Smith, Henry and Hooper broke the bank nicely here, too. Hockenson is positioned for a big raise. Brate is the surprise as the Bucs carry plenty of tight end salary between him, Gronkowski and O.J. Howard.
NFL tight end salaries: Total value rankings
Kittle has the most invested in him by his team. There was some reflection of what Kelce got in Andrews’ deal. Ertz and Hooper, the two Stanford products have seen their values become quickly outdated. Pitts is lucky to have a big deal right away. Again, Waller should want a new contract soon.
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