George Kittle is absolutely right about Travis Kelce’s salary

Travis Kelce #87 of the Kansas City Chiefs(Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images)
Travis Kelce #87 of the Kansas City Chiefs(Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images) /

George Kittle recently spoke out about the disparity in pay between the top tight ends and wide receivers and he’s right about Travis Kelce deserving more.

The pay disparity will likely close at some point in the near future. It’s just too bad that Travis Kelce likely won’t be on the receiving end when it happens.

In a recent interview with Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle spoke about the greatness of Kelce, the star tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs. In the midst of the discussion, Kittle brought up the salary of Kelce and stated it was unfair for Kelce to be paid what he is when the league’s top wide receivers are getting so much more.

To be clear, here’s what Kittle said:

"“I mean Travis Kelce, six seasons in a row, 1000 yards. 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.”"

First, Kittle has his facts straight. Kelce has put up six consecutive seasons of 1,000 yards or more receiving, which is an NFL record he’s owned since doing it four times back in 2019. At this point, Kelce is simply furthering his own greatness, which makes him an obvious lock for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton down the road.

Second, Kittle also has his facts mostly straight when he says that Kelce makes half of what a wide receiver makes. Tyreek Hill, Kelce’s former teammate, reached a new deal this offseason with the Miami Dolphins that works out to a robust $30 million average although he’s unlikely to see all the money in that deal.

The bottom line is that Kittle is absolutely right about the pay disparity and how much more the Chiefs are getting out of Kelce than what other teams get out of elite wide receivers. For a quick statistical sampling that tells the story:

Yeah, that’s Kelce putting up 200 more yards since 2016 than Nuk and more than the rest of the NFL. That sort of sustained excellence is rare in a league in which staying healthy is difficult enough.

Back to Kittle’s point: imagine being the single most productive player for more than half a decade among all pass catchers in the business and yet having your salary placed so low compared to so many of your peers. Kelce’s average annual value on his extension makes him No. 23 among pass catchers in the game today. Yet his production tells you that’s 22 places lower than he should be.

Christian Kirk and Kenny Golladay will average $18 million per year on their respective contracts—a total that Kelce will only see if he makes it to the final year of his current extension (in 2025). For the Chiefs, there’s a minimal $1.4M in dead cap space in case they’d rather release him at that total—in case they feel tight end (even a record-setting one) is getting too rich for their tastes.

All of this is not on the Chiefs. Teams aren’t going to turn over the marketplace just to appease one player who wants to be paid like another position. Kelce is second on the list of highest-paid tight ends in the game today, and he will have made millions upon millions when he decides to hang up his cleats.

However, it’s important to note that the league is likely going to rectify this problem over the next few years with agents pushing for greater deals at a position that’s making more of an impact offensively than ever before. Kelce did the work to reimagine what a tight end can do for a team, but it will be those who come after him who will be financially rewarded at a fair level for their efforts.

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