No. 1: Nose Tackle D.J. Jones
It’s a serious wonder why the 49ers aren’t giving a bigger look to 2017 rookie nose tackle D.J. Jones, who has been inactive the past two weeks. And during that stretch, Jones has seen just 71 total defensive snaps, compared to 181 from his primary competition, Earl Mitchell.
OK, fine. Mitchell was one of the Niners’ big-name free-agent signings when the Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch regime took over early in 2017. And Mitchell’s four-year, $16 million contract certainly suggest starter’s money.
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Here’s the thing, though. Mitchell will turn 32 years old at the beginning of next season. He’s no longer playing at the pinnacle of his career either, and the 49ers could save nearly $3 million in cap space if he’s released after the league new year this upcoming spring.
Not like cap space is an issue for San Francisco. But in order to determine whether or not releasing Mitchell would be wise, it would be prudent for Shanahan and Co. to see what they have in Jones in a regular role.
It’s hard to ignore the likelihood of Jones taking over for Mitchell at some point in the future. But with the 49ers’ 2018 campaign awash, there’s little reason to not start that process now.
Let Jones start, working Mitchell in as a backup and rotational player. If Jones winds up being a positive in this role, you have your conclusion on Mitchell’s future in place. And if Jones struggles, there’s no pressure to cut Mitchell when 2019 rolls around.
It’s a simple solution. Make it happen, San Francisco.