OK, maybe not exactly right now, but it certainly made for an interesting 2017 season. Garrett Celek did not put up crazy numbers this past season (career high four touchdowns), but he became a fan favorite with some strong performances that evoked the “Celek Time” mantra.
The San Francisco 49ers signed Celek as a UDFA in 2012. His first three years he was primarily the No. 3 tight end, serving as an extra blocker in Jim Harbaugh’s three tight end formations. In 2015, the 49ers traded tight end Vernon Davis, and that resulted in Vance McDonald moving into the starting role, and Celek moving into the No. 2 tight end role.
Celek took a modest step up, finishing the 2015 season with 19 receptions for 186 yards and three touchdowns. That was enough to earn him a four-year contract extension that was worth $10.2 million, but could earn him up to $14 million over the life of the deal. He is signed through the 2019 season.
The bulk of Celek’s numbers last season (21 receptions, 336 yards, 4 touchdowns) came in the back half of the season. It wasn’t because of Jimmy Garoppolo, but rather really stepping up starting in C.J. Beathard’s fourth start, against the New York Giants. From that point on, he had 14 receptions for 262 yards and three touchdowns. Not huge numbers, but a decided improvement over his first half numbers.
Experience: 6 accrued seasons
Weight: 252 lbs.
Celek is entering the third year of a four-year contract extension signed in February 2016. He is due a base salary of $1.65 million, with a $50,000 workout bonus, and in-season roster bonus money totaling $350,000. If the 49ers release him, they will carry $675,000 in dead money this season, and $625,000 in dead money next year. They would clear $2 million in cap space.
Why he might improve in 2018
Kyle Shanahan enjoys using his tight ends in a variety of ways. The 49ers did not invest heavily in the position this offseason, signing Cole Wick in January to a reserve/future contract and Ross Dwelley in April to a undrafted free agent contract. They will get opportunities behind Celek, George Kittle, and Cole Hikutini, but it’s clear Celek is ahead of them. That doesn’t guarantee big numbers, but he is in a position where the team trusts him. He has a full offseason working with Jimmy Garoppolo, and improved QB play could further help his own development. The 49ers struggled to turn red zone appearances into touchdowns, so he very well could develop into a legit red zone target.
Why he might regress in 2018
As with a several players on the roster who are carry-overs from the Trent Baalke era, it is possible we just know who these guys are. Celek could just be a low ceiling guy who is a second or third tight end at best. I don’t think regress is the word here, but rather just settling in as a 20-25 catch, 300-350 yard type of guy. There’s value there, but we shouldn’t get our expectations up too high.
Odds of making the roster
I listed him as a lock after the draft and again last week. I don’t think he’s shown enough to say there is absolute zero chance anything crazy happens with Wick or Dwelley to supplant him, but that would be a pretty stunning development at this point. My bigger question heading into this year is how he and George Kittle will split looks in the passing game — well, that and where does Cole Hikutini potentially fit into the mix. Celek took on more work at times in the second half, but Kittle was reportedly dealing with a variety of injuries. If Kittle can stay healthy in 2018, we’ll get a better handle on how this depth chart really looks.