The San Francisco 49ers already pay Vernon Davis handsomely, but he wants more. And in this age of the NFL, where elite tight ends are so very valuable to a select few offenses, Davis has undoubtedly earned his ability to call the Niners' front office back to the negotiating table.
The 30-year-old has seen more ups and downs in his days with the 49ers than most see with an organization. But ever since Jim Harbaugh arrived, Davis has been the perfect example of what can happen in Harbaugh's player-first system.
After an outstanding 2013 season, Davis is looking to increase his current deal. He explained why in a MMQB column:
In 2010 I signed a five-year, $37 million contract extension with $23 million guaranteed. It was the biggest contract for a tight end in league history. Four years later, and I’m playing at a higher level than I was then, which brings me to why I’m holding out. It’s all about getting paid what you deserve. It’s not that complicated. I want the 49ers to win the Super Bowl, and I want to be on the field this summer working toward that goal, but I have to worry about my future first. Most of my teammates and many players in the NFL understand that. A few don’t. Behind closed doors, they’ll say they’re all about the team and would run through a brick wall for the organization. But when you look closer, they’re doing things to contradict themselves. I can’t listen to anyone but my family and my advisors, because those are the people who are going to be there when football inevitably dumps me.
Does Davis have a point? Certainly.
Sure, his current deal is massive to the naked eye. Five years, $37 million comes out to about $7.4 million per season, and that has made him among the league's highest-paid tight ends over the last few seasons.
In the closing two years of his deal, though, the figures come down substantially.
The 2014 season will pay Davis $4.7 million of base salary, good for seventh among tight ends. The next year, 2015, he'll be paid even less—$4.35 million.
Those aren't bad numbers by any means. But are they consistent with a player who just caught 13 touchdowns for the second time in his career? Do they justify Davis' place as the unquestioned hero of the receiving game? Do they represent Davis' value to the San Francisco offense?
Davis has been the prototypical iron man for the 49ers in his playing career. After missing six games his rookie season, the San Francisco tight end has missed all of three contests in seven seasons since then.
His production hasn't wavered either. It took him until this season to match the 13 touchdowns from 2009 that helped land his current deal, but he's averaged almost 800 yards per season in the four years since.
Davis was rewarded well for his early-career dominance in 2010, but unfortunately enough for San Francisco, Rob Gronkowski helped re-write the standard for worldly-important tight ends in the NFL with his 2012 deal that made him the highest-paid tight end in the league's history.
Am I suggesting Davis deserves the same? Obviously not—Gronk is 25 and his play speaks for itself. But to say that Davis isn't at least similarly important to the 49ers as Gronkowski is to the Pats would be a big insult.
That's not even mentioning the current contract saga between Jimmy Graham and the New Orleans Saints.
Bleacher Report's Ian Kenyon wonders what a big contract for Graham may do for Davis and the 49ers' current situation:
Fortunately for San Francisco, it hasn't been forced to find out its reality without the team's star tight end in the fold—but a quick glance across the roster indicates it wouldn't be pretty.
Anquan Boldin led the team with 1,179 receiving yards in 2013, but after him and Davis, the next-highest yardage total was 284 from Michael Crabtree. He also caught the lone touchdown pass that didn't go to Davis or Boldin.
Colin Kaepernick was paid for what he means to this team's future. A 30-year-old Davis isn't in the same boat, but if they still fail to pay the man based off his value in the next few seasons, they may end up facing the reality of being without him.
Future contract information courtesy of Spotrac.