NFL free agents 2013: Cullen Jenkins visiting San Francisco 49ers, what it means

Doug Pensinger

Former Eagles and Packers defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins is visiting with the San Francisco 49ers on Tuesday. We discuss what it could mean.

On February 25, the Philadelphia Eagles released defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins. As part of an aggressive offseason in 2011, the Eagles had signed Jenkins to a five-year, $25 million contract with the hopes that he would fortify their defensive front.

Unfortunately, the lack of cohesion overall handicapped any potential success for the team. It certainly did not help that the defensive coordinator was former offensive line coach Juan Castillo.

And given the situation, it is worth noting that Jenkins still played 16 games in back-to-back seasons and accrued 9.5 sacks during that period. He had 4.0 sacks in six starts just a season ago, so it's clear that he can still be productive on the field.

Before that, Jenkins played 7 seasons in Green Bay (2004-2010), and even won a Super Bowl with them in 2010. Over his career, he's shown the versatility to play in a 3-4 or 4-3 defense. He also has a knack for getting after the passer, which makes him valuable.

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Cullen Jenkins career stats, courtesy of ESPN.com

According to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the eight-year pro has at least seven suitors right now. At 32 years old, Jenkins still has options but understands teams will be looking for a pass rush specialist and strong depth with him.

And that is exactly why the 49ers are hosting Jenkins in San Francisco today.

After visiting with the New York Giants on Friday and the Seattle Seahawks on Monday, the veteran defensive tackle flew to the Bay Area to meet with the Niners' front office. This seems like a move the 49ers would be inclined to make, as they like productive veterans providing depth.

However, if the 49ers were to make a move like this, it might signal that they are not returning Isaac Sopoaga or Ricky Jean-Francois.

Both Sopoaga and Jean-Francois are free agents, and most were under the assumption that the Niners would bring at least one of them back. And with all things considered, particularly age, it seemed like Jean-Francois was primed for a new deal.

But for someone playing nose guard in a 3-4 defense, 6'3", 295 pounds is just a little too small. RJF got his best reps out of the nickel, portraying that he might be best suited for a 4-3 defense somewhere else.

With the identity of this upcoming draft class - and an opportunity like Jenkins - the 49ers may forgo signing two of their top four defensive linemen.

The way the Jenkins signing makes sense is if Sopoaga and Jean-Francois walk, and the 49ers look to the early rounds for a starting-caliber defensive lineman. Jenkins could backup X rookie and play a role in the nickel packages.

And for the 49ers who are in the market for pass rush help, Jenkins could give them a slight boost in that regard.

Given that the Packers released Jenkins, which slightly derailed his career, the 32-year-old lineman may find solace with the team that seems to have their number. Jenkins left New York and Seattle without deals, and is still listening to offers. If Jim Harbaugh and Trent Baalke really want him, they won't let him leave without an agreement.

I don't buy this as a rouse to get Jean-Francois to sign because he should have legitimate interest elsewhere.

So if this is the route they are pursuing, expect the Niners to go after a top-5 defensive lineman in the draft, primarily because they'll need him to start. But with an experienced Jenkins on the roster backing him up, the 49ers could be in a position to upgrade this unit.

It seems like a solid plan to replenish the middle of this defensive line and build for the future.

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