The 49ers have already suffered a couple of key departures in NFL free agency, including nose tackle D.J. Jones, which means more is needed from Javon Kinlaw.
When the San Francisco 49ers re-signed nose tackle D.J. Jones to a team-friendly one-year deal heading into 2021, it was likely with the knowledge he wouldn’t accept another bargain-basement deal if he ended up having yet another quality season.
He did. And Jones is now getting paid because of it.
Not with the Niners, though, as Jones is poised to officially sign a lucrative three-year deal worth up to $30 million with the Denver Broncos, who find themselves locked into what is a massive arms race within the AFC West.
In a way, San Francisco anticipated this happening after Jones had his best year as a pro, playing all 17 games for the first time in his career and recording a career-best 56 tackles, 10 of which were for a loss, and being a factor in both the run and pass game.
All to the point where general manager John Lynch admitted it would be “really hard” to re-sign Jones again.
Earlier on the opening day of NFL free agency’s negotiating window starting, the 49ers watched as Pro Bowl left guard Laken Tomlinson signed a massive deal with the New York Jets, opening up a void at the position which the Niners hope another one of their early draft picks from not long ago, Aaron Banks, can fill the void.
In Jones’ case, it’ll have to be the team’s top pick from the 2020 NFL Draft, defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw.
49ers need Javon Kinlaw more than ever with D.J. Jones leaving
San Francisco has had up-and-down moments with Kinlaw, the No. 14 overall pick from the 2020 draft. His rookie season, Kinlaw managed a mere 1.5 sacks and was more of a run-stuffing defender on base downs than an interior pass-rusher, although he did flash some playmaking moments late in the year, including a pick-six interception for a touchdown against the Los Angeles Rams.
However, Kinlaw underwent season-ending knee surgery for what appeared to be chronic problems after four games in 2021, and both Jones and the 49ers’ exceptional depth along their defensive line helped make up for Kinlaw’s absence.
With Jones no longer in the fray, Kinlaw will have to turn into the Round 1-caliber defender the Niners envisioned but haven’t quite witnessed yet.
If anything, the switch from Jones to Kinlaw will epitomize what many a good team challenged by pressing up against the salary cap experience: a need to transition away from good, increasingly expensive players to cheaper ones on their respective rookie contracts.
In order for San Francisco’s D-line to retain the same kind of prowess it had last year, Kinlaw will need to more than adequately fill Jones’ void, which will be a big one.