The 49ers will have to prioritize how many of their unrestricted free agents they’d like to retain. Once they narrow that number down to double-digits, difficult decisions begin to happen.
Could you get by without re-signing Raheem Mostert? Is it worth bringing back Jason Verrett? Do we really want to have a new starter along the offensive line for our first-year starter at quarterback? If that’s the line of thinking, then Laken Tomlinson is at the top of the list of 49ers coming back.
D.J. Jones is polarizing in the sense that you could make an argument for the Niners to bring him back or let him walk during free agency. Jones had the highest run-stop win rate in the NFL at 48% — three percentage points higher than second place.
Jones’ best work comes when he’s not making tackles, as he’s usually splitting or holding up against double teams, allowing the linebackers behind him to run free and make a tackle in the backfield.
49ers general manager John Lynch spoke about the challenge it’ll be for the team to keep Jones this offseason:
“If his objective was to stay here, he made it real hard. We’re living in hope. And I don’t even hope that he misses his market, because he’s earned it and he missed his market last year. It’s going to be challenging. We can do it, but we’ve got a number of things that we want to do. We’ll see where that goes.”
Only one unrestricted free agent defensive tackle had more tackles than Jones this past season, and he played 114 more snaps. Jones is only 27, making him one of the youngest defensive tackles in this free-agent class.
After a healthy season, with how productive Jones was and his age compared to the market, Jones is looking at a pay raise in a couple of weeks.
Keeping Kinlaw in mind
If the 49ers elect to let Jones walk during free agency, that’s a good sign for Javon Kinlaw’s recovery. Lynch said Kinlaw’s rehab is going “really well” Wednesday and that the former first-round pick has made “tremendous gains” in rehab.
Lynch talked about how Kinlaw has been in the building, and it’s nice to have Kinlaw’s smiling face around:
“He’s doing really well, he really is. It’s nice to see Javon around with a smile. He’s not in pain anymore and he’s a big man. I think the plan is he could be back during the offseason program but we want to make sure he is fully rehabbed.”
Based on Lynch’s tone, the 49ers will be cautious with Kinlaw and take things slow to ensure he’s 100%:
“He has such a high ceiling. We want to see him healthy… So we just need to make sure and be very diligent and we are committed to doing that. That he’s healthy before he returns and if that means training camp, that means training camp.”
Kinlaw rehabbed at the same facility Bosa used when he tore his ACL. Kinlaw also had surgery from the same doctor who operated on Bosa’s ACL tear. So there’s a reason for optimism if Kinlaw is on the Bosa plan.
Arik Armstead was excellent when he slid inside full-time. There’s no reason to move him from 3-technique after playing at an All-Pro level. And while there’s reason to be optimistic about Kinlaw, the 49ers' history with injuries and 300-pound men recovering from bad knees make it difficult to let Jones leave.
Lynch said, “it’d be fun to have them all out there.” That would be the best-case scenario and would preserve the deepest defensive line in the NFL.