Projecting Cole Kmet’s Contract Extension

| June 14th, 2023

In the last two days, we’ve looked in depth at tight end Cole Kmet’s production, and found that he’s not going to be a guy you build your passing attack around, but has proven he’s a solid secondary receiving weapon who fits well in Chicago’s current offense. We also saw earlier this offseason that Kmet is a solid run blocker, which the Bears clearly value in this scheme.

Since he has finished three years in the NFL, Kmet is eligible for an early contract extension that could lock him in to Chicago through his prime. Ryan Poles stated earlier this offseason that he would be looking to sign a few key young players to extensions before the season starts, and Kmet seems like the most obvious candidate there.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the tight end market to see what Kmet’s deal could end up looking like.

Favorable Comparisons (Kmet)

Let’s start by looking at contracts Cole Kmet’s camp will point to as deals signed by comparable players. The table below shows five such deals signed by tight ends in the last two years.

A few thoughts:

  • All of these players had similar receiving production to Kmet in the year or two prior to signing their contract. Kmet has averaged about 575 yards the last two years, and all of these were between 450 and 625 yards over their last 1-2 years of production.
    • Kmet actually ranks better than everybody but Henry in terms of receiving yards over the last two years prior to signing, so he can fairly claim to be more valuable than most of these players.
  • All were also signing their first big NFL deal to play through their prime, either with their rookie contract having just expired (Njoku, Smith, Henry) or one year left on their deal (Goedert, Knox).
    • Kmet actually has a leg up over these players in that he will be only 24 in the first year after signing his deal, 2-3 years younger than the rest of them.
    • Since contracts are more about expected future performance than what has been done in the past, that is a significant factor in Kmet’s favor. He has put up comparable production to these players while being 2-3 years younger, and should still be expected to have more room for growth, plus an additional 2-3 years of his prime remaining before physical decline starts to set in.
  • Thus overall, due to both age and production, Kmet should expect to be come in above the average of this list. In fact, his camp can make a pretty solid argument that he should exceed everybody listed here.
  • That argument is only strengthened when you factor in a rapidly increasing salary cap. The salary cap in 2023 is set at $224.8M, while it was only $182.5M in 2021 and $198.2M in 2022. If you extrapolate these deals from when they were signed to a 2023 cap value, the average increases to $15.7M per year.
  • The closest comparison to Kmet here is probably Dallas Goedert, who also signed an early extension with one year left on his rookie contract while having two years of prior starting production. Goedert had 1130 receiving yards in the two seasons prior to signing his contract extension, while Kmet has had 1150.
    • If you extrapolate Goedert’s deal to 2023’s salary cap, that’s about $17.5M per year. That’s a realistic ceiling for what Kmet’s deal could look like, and is probably what the first ask from his camp will be.

Favorable Comparisons (Bears)

Of course, contract extensions are always negotiations, so the Bears will counter by comparing Kmet to smaller contracts signed by comparable players in recent years. The table below likely shows the two deals they will point to.

A few thoughts:

  • Once again these players are all a few years older than Kmet, which would mean Kmet has more value than them going forward. But still, these are about as close as you’re going to find to Kmet in terms of age and experience.
  • Conklin is probably a bit of a stretch here, as he had only one year of production after three years of serving as a little-used backup. His one season was fairly comparable to Kmet’s average the last two years, but he didn’t have as strong of a track record to fall back on as Kmet does.
  • Dalton Schulz’s case is weird to me. He is actually a pretty similar player to Kmet stylystically in that he blocks well and is a solid pass catcher who’s more of a secondary threat than a primary one. He actually outproduced Kmet as a receiver by a decent margin in the two years prior to signing his contract (1400 yards vs. 1150).
    • When Schulz’s rookie deal expired after 2021, the Cowboys placed the franchise tag on him (1 year, $11M fully guaranteed), and he had a solid 2022 season, but then Dallas didn’t have the cap space to re-sign him, and his free agent market was basically nonexistent.
    • Prior to free agency, I thought Schulz’s deal might provide a nice framework for Kmet’s eventual extension, but he ended up having to accept a 1-year prove it contract with the hopes of striking it rich next year

Contract Projection

Prior to the Schulz weirdness in free agency this year, Kmet’s contract projection looked pretty simple, with a range of possible values based on the first table above. Schulz’s situation might have thrown a small wrench in that, and I’m sure the Bears will try to use it to drive Kmet’s contract value down, but realistically there’s not much incentive for Kmet to take a small deal right now, as he’ll be able to beat that easily should he hit free agency.

If the Bears are going to entice Kmet to sign early, I think it’s going to be a very large extension. The last two tight ends to sign early extensions with one year left on their rookie contract were Dawson Knox and Dallas Goedert, so those are the two contracts that will most likely serve as the comparable ones for Kmet’s eventual extension. Even then, Knox only had one season with more than 400 receiving yards prior to signing his extension, so Kmet likely beats that deal.

PFF’s Brad Spielberger, who’s the best contract guy out there in NFL media right now, projected Kmet to sign a 4 year deal worth $13.3M per year, with 60% of the money guaranteed. That’s basically Knox’s deal with higher guarantees, and that seems too small to me, because Kmet has outproduced Knox at the point of signing the extension, is two years younger, and signing on a bigger salary cap. Even taking Knox’s deal and simply extrapolating it to a bigger salary cap would be about $14.8M/year, and Kmet can rightfully claim he should beat that, so I’d say $15M per year is roughly his floor, with $17.5M (the cap-extrapolated version of Dallas Goedert’s contract) his likely ceiling.

Due to his younger age, it’s possible Kmet could push for a fifth year on his deal, but he also might want only four years so that he has one more shot at a second big contract a few years down the road. We’ve seen the trend for shorter contracts playing out in recent years for that exact reason.

Final projection: 4 years, $64M ($16M/year), $30M guaranteed (50%)

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