What does Evan Engram’s extension mean for Cole Kmet?

| July 17th, 2023

I want to start today by saying that I knew Cole Kmet was a fairly polarizing Chicago Bear, but I didn’t think he was this polarizing.

For those who didn’t catch Sunday’s news, Jaguars TE Evan Engram agreed to a contract extension worth $42.5 million dollars over 3 years, equating to an Average Annual Value of $14.16M/Y. And while Evan Engram is 28 years old, now on his second team, and had the leverage of Jacksonville’s franchise tag helping him get a deal done, his $14M+ price tag begs the question — how much is Cole Kmet worth on the open market?

Statistically speaking, Engram (a ‘move’ tight end, basically a big receiver) and Kmet (a ‘Y’ tight end, basically a blocker that catches sometimes) have surprisingly similar passing game production — Engram edges Kmet in yardage (766 yards vs 544 yards), but Kmet out-produced Engram in:

  • Yards-Per-Reception (Kmet: 10.9 y/r, Engram: 10.5 y/r)
  • Yards-Per-Target (Kmet: 7.9 y/t, Engram: 7.8 y/t)
  • Touchdowns (Kmet: 7 in 2022 & 9 in last 3 years, Engram: 4 in 2022 & 8 in the last 3 years)
  • Percentage of Total Passing Yards, or Market Share (Kmet: 20.93% of total passing yards, Engram: 18.62% of total passing yards)

And of course, Kmet is a markedly better blocker & much more involved in Chicago’s run game than Engram is in Jacksonville’s. If Cole’s agent argues that his 24-year-old client is one of the best young players at his position, statistically he has a case that Kmet’s teammate Jaylon Johnson doesn’t.

Thus, when I posted about Kmet’s price tag on Twitter, I expected to receive a ho-hum response to his likely extension price. Instead, I got well over 100 comments that split exclusively between ‘of course he’s worth that money’ and ‘absolutely no way can you pay him like that’ with very few comments in the middle.

I was shocked at how black-and-white everyone spoke about the former golden-domer — whether you thought he had earned his payday or not, clearly everyone’s answer seemed obvious to them. But why?

I started thinking — when was the last time I watched Kmet without the emotional bias that comes with week-to-week games? I’ve been hard on Kmet (a young player at a notably tough-to-learn NFL position) since he was drafted, but has he deserved it? I decided to break open his tape and see for myself.

On plenty of snaps in the cutup below Kmet looks like the same old player you already know, but as I watched his Lions game I noticed a clear difference in the way he ran his routes — more than ever, Kmet is leveraging his physicality in his route running by leaning into his man at the top of his ‘stem’ (the vertical part of any football route) and knocking his defender’s weight onto his heels, helping him generate separation out of his break.

The first clip in this cutup is a phenomenal example of this — notice how Kmet takes an inside step off the line of scrimmage before driving his full body-weight into the chest of his defender and exploding inside as his defender stumbles backwards to regain his balance. Kmet gains almost a yard and a half of separation from his man, a far cry from the days when his catches came on box-out plays in tight coverage! A clear improvement from his early days in the league.

Even on his un-physical routes, Kmet looked snappier than he did in the early months of his 2022 season (let alone 2020-2021) and looked natural catching the ball with his hands. He also showed off more of the blocking ability he’s known for, with one play even leveraging his reputation as a blocker to get him open for an easy TD in the 1st Quarter.

Check out the cutup below:

Is Kmet worth 13-15Mil/Year? Before re-watching him I didn’t think so, but now I’m sitting on the fence.

On one hand, that’s an awful lot of money to pay for a Tight End that might oscillate between ‘average’ and ‘above average’ for his entire career. How much of his career production has come from his own talent as opposed to a lack of other viable receiving options? Is it a coincidence that in 2022 Kmet picked up 40% of his season’s yardage after Darnell Mooney’s injury? It could be, but Kmet earned those yards nevertheless.

On the other hand, Kmet’s tape shows a clearly-improving player that has next to no holes in his game. He may not be best-in-class at any part of Tight End, but any metric you use to evaluate Kmet cites him somewhere between 10th-20th on a list of ~45 tight ends. His versatility allows Luke Getsy to craft offensive formations that move Kmet around without ‘telling’ the defense what the offense is up to, and in a Shanahan-style approach that aims to compact the entire playbook within as few total formations as possible that’s a very valuable asset.

At the end of the day I have to remind myself that new contracts in the NFL always seem like wild prices today but look ‘normal’ as soon as next year, so if Ryan Poles sees a growing young player and envisions a big role for him in 2024+ I’d certainly understand an extension. With the Bears still under the cap floor, I’d bet that a deal eventually gets done.

Your Turn: If you were Ryan Poles, do you extend Cole Kmet at this price?

Also: Braxton Jones video needed extra work over the weekend, should be out soon.