49ers free agency: Time to pay up for a tight end to complement Kittle

When it comes to splurging on a tight end, the 49ers wisely did so with George Kittle in 2020.

When it comes to free agency, they consistently avoid such spending.

Perhaps that changes this shopping season.

Adding a No. 2 tight end is an annual chore that seemingly fails to deliver, all due respect to Ross Dwelley’s sure hands and Charlie Woerner’s special teams value.

Tyler Kroft’s one-year, $1.2 million deal last May was the largest given to a free agent tight end since Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch took command in 2017. Other one-year duds since then: Logan Paulsen (2017), Levine Toilolo (2018), and Jordan Reed (2020).

Next month’s draft supposedly offers a deep pool of tight ends, which could tempt the 49ers to burn their free agent dollars elsewhere. Here is how that marketplace looks:



Kittle had a career-high 11 touchdown catches in his sixth season, after missing the opening two games with a groin injury. He made his fourth Pro Bowl and drew All-Pro Second-Team honors. His 395 receptions are eighth-most in 49ers’ history, 46 shy of Vernon Davis for fifth place (and the most by a tight end).


Dwelley, Kroft, Woerner, Jordan Matthews

Kroft capped his tenure in infamous fashion, when his block failed to slow Hassan Reddick long enough on the sack that injured Brock Purdy’s elbow in the NFC Championship Game.

Last year, Dwelley had three catches (and one touchdown on Jimmy Garoppolo’s first scoring strike of the season). Woerner had no catches last season after just eight in his previous two years. Matthews’ two-year conversion from wide receiver was halted by a torn anterior cruciate ligament in training camp.


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Dalton Schultz (Cowboys), Robert Tonyan (Packers), Mike Gesicki (Dolphins), Hayden Hurst (Bengals), Austin Hooper (Titans), Foster Moreau (Raiders), Jordan Akins (Texans), Irv Smith Jr. (Vikings).

There’s no shortage of proven starters, though most come with injury histories that aren’t comforting. Evan Engram put up career-best numbers to command the Jags’ franchise tag, so he’s out of the 49ers’ reach. Tonyan has bunked at Kittle’s Tennessee home as offseason training partners, and Tonyan rebounded last year from a knee injury. Hooper played as a rookie in Shanahan’s system with the Falcons after getting drafted out of Stanford.

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