One position we haven’t talked about the San Francisco 49ers upgrading is tight end. That’s because the best player at that position is already on the team. General manager John Lynch has stated that he wants to lighten George Kittle’s workload moving forward. That was before the season was over. Kittle said that he played through a torn labrum for the past two seasons. The star tight end missed two games in 2019 with a broken bone in his ankle. Even with missing time, Kittle played 76% of the snaps this past season. He played 88% in 2018. On Friday, The Athletic’s Matt Barrows said the 49ers want to upgrade at tight end to take some pressure off Kittle, who is due for a big payday this offseason.
There are some interesting options at tight end that are available, but we’ll go down memory lane today. If the 49ers are looking to make life easier for Kittle, they’re not going to bring in a player that’s injury-prone. So let’s eliminate former Washington tight end Jordan Reed—who has visited the Seahawks this week—and Cincinnati tight end Tyler Eifert. Reed missed all of 2019 and has played “starter” snaps once since 2013. Reed is a walking mismatch, but he’s consistently shown he can’t stay healthy. Eifert hasn’t been much better. He’s had two seasons in that same timeframe where Eifert played more than 600 snaps.
On Friday, the Titans announced they released former Niners’ tight end, Delanie Walker. In 99 games with the 49ers, Walker caught 123 passes for 1,465 yards and eight touchdowns. In 84 games with the Titans, he had 381 catches for 4,423 yards and 28 touchdowns. Walker’s career splits are something. How often do we see a player’s career take off when he reaches 29? That was the case with Walker.
Walker has landed on the injured reserve the past two seasons. Before that, the 35-year-old had played at least 14 games every season since his rookie year. The Titans saved $6.4 million from cutting Walker. If the 49ers can work out a deal that brings back a familiar face, they should go for it. The only issue here is Jalen Hurd, who presumably would play the same role as Walker. That hybrid tight end, slot player that is too fast for linebackers to guard and too big for defensive backs to guard.
The 49ers were at their best last season when they had fewer wide receivers on the field from a success rate standpoint, so getting a healthy Hurd or a veteran like Walker will open up the offense even more. Would you do it?