The 2020 offseason changed the landscape significantly when it came to the highest-paid tight ends. Entering the start of the league year, only Hunter Henry on the franchise tag was earning over $10 million per year. However, the ensuing months saw the title of highest-paid TE change hands again, with four players at the position earning over $10 million per year on average when the 2020 NFL season started.
The highest-paid tight ends in the NFL | 6-10
Which TEs sit in the bottom half of the top 10 when it comes to the highest paid in average annual value (AAV)?
10) Jack Doyle, Indianapolis Colts | AAV: $7.1 million
Jack Doyle is entering the second year of a three-year contract extension. The deal is worth $21.3 million, with a $3 million signing bonus. The deal included $10.25 million guaranteed at signing, with $11.75 million in total guarantees.
The final part of the guarantees is $1.5 million in base salary for 2021. That money guarantees on the fifth day of the 2021 league year. Prior to that, the Colts could save $4.29 million by releasing him ahead of that date. However, if they keep Doyle on the roster beyond that point, those savings would decrease to less than $3 million.
9) Tyler Higbee, Los Angeles Rams | AAV: $7.25 million
Tyler Higbee signed a four-year extension with the Rams which is worth $29 million. The first year of the extension was 2021, where Higbee counted $9.125 million against the salary cap.
The extension contained $10.25 million in fully guaranteed money at signing. However, there is a total of $15 million in guaranteed money. His 2019 salary and a $6.025 million make up the full guarantees. The remaining guarantees in the deal were his 2020 salary, and a $3 million roster bonus in 2021.
If the Rams were to release Higbee, they would be left with $4.8 million in dead money. However, next offseason, that number decreases to $1.2 million.
8) Darren Waller, Las Vegas Raiders | AAV: $7.45 million
Waller had another superb season in 2020, and after signing a contract extension, may be the best value on this list. Sitting at the bottom of the highest-paid tight ends in the league, Waller’s play is more reminiscent of a receiver. He finished the season ranked 10th in receiving yards, reeling in over 73 percent of his targets.
7) Jimmy Graham, Chicago Bears | AAV: $8 million
After entering the season with plenty of question marks, Jimmy Graham put together a solid season in 2020.
He is under contract with the Bears in 2021 but is set to be the third-highest paid tight end in terms of salary cap hit in 2021. Therefore, he could be a candidate for the Bears to cut. After scoring 8 touchdowns in 2020, Graham could find himself commanding a similar number to this if he does hit free agency.
6) Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles | AAV: $8.5 million
2020 was supposed to be the season that Zach Ertz put himself in the reckoning to join the likes of George Kittle and Travis Kelce atop the list of highest-paid tight ends. However, it did not turn out that way, as he caught just 50 percent of his targets while missing half a dozen games.
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The highest-paid tight ends in the NFL | 2-5
Which tight ends make up four of the top five highest-paid at the position?
5) Austin Hooper, Cleveland Browns | AAV: $10.5 million
Hooper was briefly atop the list of highest-paid tight ends when it came to guaranteed money. Hooper finished the season with 34 targets in the last four games as he and Baker Mayfield developed more chemistry. He should be a big part of the offense in 2021 and beyond, just as this contract indicates he should be.
T-3) Jonnu Smith, New England Patriots | AAV: $12.5 million
Smith’s career has yet to hit full gear with the Tennessee Titans in his career. He got off to a strong start in 2020, before an injury to the offensive line changed Smith’s role in the offense. Therefore, the Patriots are gambling that what we saw in the early part of the 2020 season is what Smith can be over the coming four years. Making him the third-highest-paid TE is certainly a big investment for a relatively unproven talent.
T-3) Hunter Henry, New England Patriots | AAV: $12.5 million
Henry joined Smith in New England just a day later. Both tight ends will take home the same AAV over the course of their contracts. However, due to his extensive injury history, Henry received a three-year deal as opposed to five years for Smith. Henry received $25 million in guarantees.
2) Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs | AAV: $14.313 million
Just a few hours after Kittle shot to the top of this list of highest-paid tight ends, Kelce got himself near the apex with a four-year extension of his own. Kelce’s extension is worth $57.2 million, with $28 million in guaranteed money.
With a cap number of $13.25 million in 2021, Kelce will be the highest-paid tight end in the league in that regard. However, when it comes to AAV, he sits just behind the man atop this list.
Who is the highest-paid tight end in the NFL?
1) George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers | AAV: $15 million
Kittle’s five-year, $75 million extension set the benchmark for tight ends and could take some toppling. Entering the 2020 season, he ranked in the top 10 in the Pro Football Network Top 100. Kittle had an injury-hit 2020 season, but he demonstrated why he is the highest-paid player in the league at the TE position when healthy.
Which TEs could be next to join this list?
As we enter the 2021 offseason, there are five tight ends that stand out as names potentially joining the top 10 in terms of the highest-paid at the position.
Mark Andrews | Baltimore Ravens
Entering 2020, Andrews looked set to break into the top three highest-paid at the TE position. However, he failed to build on a strong 2019 season in a way that demands he gets an immediate extension.
Andrews is under contract for one more year, and with the Ravens needing more help outside, it will be interesting to see if they lock Andrews up for the foreseeable future. He has proven to be a reliable option so far in his career. However, he is unlikely to be viewed as a playmaker in the way Kittle and Kelce are.
Evan Engram | New York Giants
The first-round pick from 2017 is under contract for 2021 after the New York Giants exercised his fifth-year option. Engram went into the 2020 season hoping to demonstrate he deserved a contract extension. He answered some questions by playing in all 16 games, but his performances raised more question marks.
Engram caught just 57.8 percent of his targets and only found the end zone twice. He dropped 11 passes, including one that cost the Giants a game against the Eagles on Thursday Night Football.
Dallas Goedert | Philadelphia Eagles
Goedert put together a strong season, despite missing five games. He caught 70.8 percent of his targets for 524 yards and 3 touchdowns. He is entering the final year of his rookie deal but might be willing to gamble on himself. With a new offensive scheme in place, a big year in 2021 could see Goedert jump into the top five highest-paid tight ends next offseason.
Mike Gesicki | Miami Dolphins
After a slow start, Gesicki demonstrated his value to the Dolphins down the stretch. He saw 44 targets in the final six games, catching 29 for 332 yards and 4 touchdowns. His chemistry with rookie QB Tua Tagovailoa was clear to see. Therefore, the Dolphins may take this opportunity to secure Gesicki’s services. Any extension should comfortably see him rank among the top 10 highest-paid at the TE position.
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