SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP)The San Francisco 49ers wrapped up all the major items on their offseason to-do list when they signed George Kittle to a five-year extension and now the defending NFC champions can begin their quest to get back to the Super Bowl.
The 49ers held their first training camp practice of the summer Saturday with Kittle on the field and locked up for the long term with a $75 million, five-year extension.
”Just wanted to get it done and have some security,” Kittle said. ”Now I can go onto a football field and not have any worries about anything. I don’t have to worry about getting injured, I don’t have to really worry about anything. I just go out there and focus on football. I have the best job in the world. I get paid to play football. I know now I’m taken care of and my family’s taken care of. I don’t to have to worry about money. I don’t have to worry about anything else. Now I can just go out there and play football and run through somebody’s face. I’m really excited about that.”
The Niners major tasks this offseason were finding replacements for left tackle Joe Staley, defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, receiver Emmanuel Sanders, as well as locking up Kittle with a long-term deal.
San Francisco drafted defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw and receiver Brandon Aiyuk in the first round to fill two of those holes and traded for seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams to replace Staley.
The Niners also gave extensions to coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch before giving Kittle the richest contract ever for a tight end.
”It was the first day I would have been concerned and first I would have noticed if nothing was done,” Shanahan said. ”It does help things get done.”
Kittle has been the most productive tight end in NFL history through his first three seasons with 197 catches for 2,664 yards. he is almost equally as skilled as a blocker in the run game where he is a key piece in coach Kyle Shanahan’s dynamic offense.
The Niners averaged 5.0 yards per carry last season with Kittle on the field, compared to 3.5 yards per carry without him, according to NFL NextGen stats.
He is a key piece to helping the Niners maintain the level they were at last season when they won 13 regular season games to earn the top seed in the NFC and then went to the Super Bowl. The season ended in disappointment when San Francisco blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter before losing 31-20 to Kansas City.
But after filling the big holes and adding new pieces like tight end Jordan Reed, the Niners feel like they’re just getting started.
”I think we can win a lot more games,” Kittle said. ”We won 13 last year. So that’s saying a lot.”
The Niners held their first practice on Saturday after walkthroughs earlier in the week. There were encouraging signs with slot receiver Trent Taylor making a diving catch in team drills after missing all of last season with a foot injury.
Running back Jerick McKinnon was moving well after missing the past two years with knee injuries.
Receiver Jalen Hurd was limited after missing his rookie season with a back injury and Reed also was worked back slowly after missing last season in Washington because of a concussion in preseason.
But being able to practice for the first time since the Super Bowl was a welcome milestone after a truncated offseason program because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
”Just getting out there was great,” Shanahan said. ”We’ve been here for a couple weeks. We’ve been on the field doing some walkthroughs and stuff. But being able to go out there and go full speed finally was great. We got one more day of that without pads and then we’ll be past all those restrictions.”
The only noteworthy players unable to practice at this point are defensive lineman Arik Armstead and receivers Deebo Samuel and Richie James Jr.
Armstead is day to day with a sore back and should be ready to return next week. Samuel (foot) and James (wrist) are on the non-football injury list.
Shanahan said he was hopeful Samuel will be able to play in the season opener Sept. 13 against Arizona.
NOTES: The 49ers signed veteran WRs Tavon Austin and JJ Nelson and they took part in the first practice. Both provide speed and experience as returners. … The team waived TE Daniel Helm and WR Chris Thompson to make room on the roster.
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