We are a week away from teams being permitted to contact and enter into contract negotiations with certified agents of players who will become unrestricted free agents. The new League Year begins at 1 p.m. PT on March 16, as does the official Free Agency period.
The San Francisco 49ers have 21 unrestricted free agents, but they don’t have any marquee names that will make the headlines — so we think.
ESPN’s Dan Graziano and Jeremy Fowler covered all of the latest buzz and rumors out of the NFL Combine Sunday. Fowler mentioned a pair of 49ers as “free agents whose new deals might surprise you.” The description under the headline was, “a few players have emerged as candidates for “wow” numbers early in free agency talks:
D.J. Jones: The 27-year-old played lights out for San Francisco, which would love to keep him but knows that will be tough.
Laken Tomlinson: Again with the 49ers. He’s emerging as a top guard available and could spark a bidding war closer to free agency. The Bengals, Panthers, Vikings, Steelers, Jets and Seahawks are among teams that will be in the guard market. Austin Corbett is also a buzzworthy name just below Tomlinson.
49ers general manager John Lynch acknowledged that it’d be a challenge to retain Jones last week. It will be a surprise when Jones receives a lucrative contract for those who didn’t watch him often. But Jones was a stud and deserves every penny.
Jones’ age will play a significant factor as he’s one of the youngest defensive tackles on the free-agent market. However, despite the lack of sack numbers, there’s no denying he’s one of the most dominant run defenders in the league.
The last thing the Niners want to do is get into a “bidding war” over Tomlinson. They’re not in a position to fight with other teams due to the lack of salary cap space at the moment.
Of course, restructuring/extending the duo of Arik Armstead and Jimmie Ward could free up over $15 million in cap space, per Over the Cap. And that’s before we get to the inevitable trade/release of Jimmy Garoppolo.
Tomlinson is a hot commodity and is coming off a Pro Bowl-level season where he didn’t miss any games again. At 30, Tomlinson has shown he has plenty left in the tank to be an above-average starter. We’ll find out in just over a week if that’ll continue to be in the Bay Area.
That goes for Jones, too, who might seem more like a luxury to some, but has immense value on this defense.