Cole Kmet’s breakout this season has been real. And at this point, there’s no denying that.
And while I was working on this week’s Fields Film, I couldn’t help but notice Kmet. Repeatedly, too. Kmet led the Bears in targets (7) and catches (6) on Sunday. Meanwhile, Kmet’s 72 receiving yards were second most on the team behind Equanimeous St. Brown’s 85 yards. So on a day in which Justin Fields had his best passing performance of his career against the Green Bay Packers, it was Kmet who was the main beneficiary. That feels like an important development.
The growing chemistry between Fields and Kmet is unmistakable. And it might be the most impressive thing about Kmet’s season, particularly the last month-and-a-half. Fields targeting Kmet seven times in his best game as a passer was a testament to that relationship. And it is one that Fields and Kmet have said involves a heaping amount of extra work together after practice. Kmet and Fields have something special, and it should be a thing for years to come in Chicago. And seeing this development gives us the runway to start thinking about a contract extension for Kmet.
Kmet becomes an unrestricted free agent following the 2023 season and extension discussions can begin as soon as this season ends. And in thinking about this topic this morning, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the last time the Bears were in this situation with a tight end that they drafted who was becoming the favorite target of their quarterback.
The Greg Olsen Situation Serves as an Important Reminder
I get pretty chapped thinking about the Bears trading Greg Olsen, the eventual three-time Pro Bowl tight end to the Panthers after the 2010 season. Olsen was drafted by the Bears with the 31st pick in the 2007 NFL Draft and produced well for Chicago before they traded him to the Carolina Panthers in July 2011. Olsen was entering the fifth and final year of his rookie contract that summer. And despite Olsen being Jay Cutler’s favorite receiver, former offensive coordinator Mike Martz didn’t see him as a fit in his system (which Martz tried to recently clarify, but eh…). Anyway, it all led to former GM Jerry Angelo trading Olsen to Carolina for a third-round pick.
Several years later, Angelo admitted on the old Kap and Haugh Show on 87.7 FM The Game that trading Olsen was a mistake:
“It was a mistake to trade him,” Angelo said, via Pro Football Talk. “I understand he wasn’t the ideal fit in the scheme, but we let our best receiver go. Obviously, it was [Jay] Cutler’s favorite receiver at the time, and we let him out the door.
“That’s on me. I understand what the coaches were saying, but you don’t let your best player — one of your better players — out the door. Everything he’s doing hasn’t surprised me. He’s an excellent player, particularly in the passing game. He’s Newton’s favorite target. I’m happy for Greg; he’s not only a great player, but a great kid. Like Matt Forte, [he has] an insatiable work ethic.”
Like Olsen, Kmet was a high-profile draft pick who was the Bears’ first selection (43rd overall) in the 2020 NFL Draft. And, like Olsen, Kmet’s numbers have gotten better every year. Finally, like Olsen, Kmet is approaching the end of his rookie contract worthy of an extension. The parallels are fun to look at and sort through for the sake of discussion and perspective.
Moreover, the two tight ends actually stack up pretty well against each other during their rookie contracts. Better than you would imagine, in fact:
|Greg Olsen (’07-’09)||Cole Kmet (’20-’22)*|
|Yards Per Reception||10.3||10.3|
Keep in mind Kmet has four more games to play this season. So his part of the table is incomplete (for now). But the comparison between the two tight ends’ first three seasons with the Bears will be pretty darn close when the season ends in five weeks.
In the end, we’ve got a homegrown product who has developed incredible chemistry with the quarterback of the future, who is playing at the level of a former tight end that any Bears fan would take the career of in Chicago 100 times over. Oh, and there’s the oft-cited fact that the Bears will have oodles of cash to spend this offseason. There are simply zero reasons why the Bears shouldn’t be prioritizing a Kmet extension this summer.
What Might that Extension Look Like?
The good news for the Bears is it likely won’t be an extension that breaks the bank.
Recent waves of tight-end contract extensions include Darren Waller (3 yrs/$51M) and Dawson Knox (4 yrs/$52M) are numbers that the Bears won’t have to come close to for Kmet. At least this time around. Even still … Kmet is due for a raise that would put him well beyond the $1.8 million base salary he’s making now. To put that in perspective, that number ranks 40th among tight ends. It even ranks below teammate Ryan Griffin’s $2.25 million salary.
For a better idea of what Kmet’s extension might look like, I’d point to Tyler Higbee’s recent extension with the Rams. Firstly, let’s take into consideration that Higbee has near identical yards per reception (10.9) and catch rate (65.5%) as Kmet does in his first three seasons. And for what it’s worth, Higbee’s caught 129 passes for 1,406 yards and 7 touchdowns in four seasons with the Rams. Something for Kmet to strive for as he tries to angle for a notable raise and extension.
As for Higbee’s new deal, which was signed in 2019, the four-year pact was worth $29 million. It includes $15.025 million in guarantees and a $4 million signing bonus. Today, Higbee’s extension has a total value that ranks 13th in total value, 19th in average per year, and 19th in full guarantees. But that has been bumped down since the contract was signed before George Kittle, Travis Kelce, Dallas Goedert, Mark Andrews, David Njoku, Dawson Knox, Darren Waller, Jonnu Smith, and Hunter Henry signed their respective deals. The tight end market is evolving. And the Bears should keep that in mind as Kmet becomes eligible for an extension.
So … Where can the Bears go with Kmet?
Here’s an idea for a Bears-Kmet extension: Four years, $34 million. If the Bears did that, it could come with an AAV as high as $8.5 million on a deal that would keep Kmet in Chicago through 2027. The $8.5 million cap hit would kick in starting in 2024 and would rank 14th among players playing his position. Even if the number came closer to $10M AAV, Kmet would still be just inside the top-half of tight end paydays. Ultimately, a Kmet extension is the type of deal that would give the Bears value and flexibility, while also giving the player a solid payday. On top of that, it would lock up the Bears’ TE1 and one of — if not the — Fields’ favorite targets. What’s not to love?
So, it’ll be interesting to see how things play out. But one thing is for sure, and it’s that the time to start thinking about a Kmet extension is this offseason is here.