Kilgore has been a part of one of the most dominant teams in the NFL and part of one of the worst teams in the league. But as he prepares to embark on free agency and all its uncertainty, there's still one big piece of unfinished business that has eluded him: winning a Super Bowl.
Just a few months ago, Kilgore's best chance to do that likely would have come with a change of address. Now, after the Niners' trade for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and a late-season surge in which they won five straight and six of seven to close the year, reaching the ultimate goal doesn't seem as far off as it once was.
And for Kilgore, more than any financial compensation, it's important to see the 49ers' rebuild through to a winning conclusion.
"It would be huge," Kilgore said. "To spend eight years or more plus with one organization is huge for me. I'm not the type of guy where it's going to be about the money to me. It's about this team and the brotherhood and what the future holds for this team. That's what I'm really impressed with is it's such a young team, starting 0-9, finishing out the season 6-10, it's pretty special."
In the seemingly never-ending rush to praise Garoppolo and the accelerated trajectory of the 49ers, Kilgore has been one of the team's most steadying influences. Along with left tackle Joe Staley, Kilgore has offered the veteran leadership that can only come with being one of the longest-tenured players on the only team he's ever known.
Last week, the 49ers named Kilgore the winner of the annual Bobb McKittrick award, an honor given to the offensive lineman who "best represents courage, intensity and sacrifice."
Like many of his fellow pending free agents, Kilgore hasn't been shy about expressing his interest in returning to the 49ers. Armed with more than $100 million in salary-cap space and nine draft picks, the 49ers could look elsewhere at a number of positions, with Garoppolo the only free agent sure to be back in 2018. And upgrading the interior of the offensive line should be a priority for San Francisco.
Still, there's something to be said for a guy who is so widely respected in the locker room and who developed quick chemistry with the franchise quarterback. In fact, Garoppolo has already given Kilgore a ringing endorsement to return.
"I think there's a special relationship between the center and quarterback," Garoppolo said. "We spend so much time together. Me and him got on the same page almost instantly when I got here. He made my job a lot easier in the run game and all that stuff. We complement each other very well, so hopefully we'll work something out."
Of course, hammering out a contract isn't the easiest thing to do given the premium that's been placed on offensive linemen in free agency in recent years. While Kilgore doesn't figure to command a huge deal, he's been solid and is coming off the first season in his career that he's started and played in all 16 games. Aside from Kilgore, the Giants' Weston Richburg and Denver's Matt Paradis (restricted) are two options who could be available.
But if Kilgore is willing to return on a reasonable deal, it's not out of the question the Niners would be willing to bring him back. And Kilgore is excited by the potential of what a return could bring, especially given the presence of Garoppolo, coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch.
"That would be something I would look forward to is going back and having the same system back-to-back years," Kilgore said. "This is our fourth head coach, fourth new offense for me. Quarterbacks, what'd we have, three this year? It's a lot, but having that stability it would be pretty awesome to see what the future holds and get another full offseason to really work in this offensive scheme and working with Jimmy, not for just a few weeks. That would play a huge role in being here for sure."
For their part, the Niners have maintained contact with potential free agents throughout the year, though only cornerback K'Waun Williams has already re-signed.
"I think the one thing that we've tried to do is -- yes, you're playing a season -- but we've had conversations with all of those guys throughout the course of the year," Lynch said. "I think in each situation, given the right parameters on both sides, we'd like to work something out. We'll see as we move in whether that happens. There's going to be competition for some of those players ... We'll continue to stay in communication with those players."
Like the rest of his teammates, Kilgore is well aware that a return to the Niners would mean an offseason full of expectations for a team that finished as the hottest in the league. As a veteran, he knows it would be part of his job to help maintain focus on the task as hand.
It's a job Kilgore just wants a chance to do so he can be a part of helping resurrect the once-proud franchise.
"I try not to think about it too much but, you know, it's there," Kilgore said. "I'm out of a job in March, that's when my contract is up. I just worry about doing my job. Now my job is to stay in shape, keep working and work towards a third contract going into my eighth season in the NFL. I want to continue to be a Niner, and we'll see if that happens."