MOBILE, Ala. – The 49ers on Wednesday informed one of their most-respected veteran players he will not return on his current contract.
The 49ers will not pick up the option that would have paid veteran nose tackle Earl Mitchell $3.7 million in salary and bonuses for the upcoming season.
“Earl’s been a fantastic asset to this entire organization with all the things he’s done,” 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said before the South team's practice at the Senior Bowl. “It’s an opportunity for other guys to try to step up. It will not be easy to try to replace him, for sure.”
Mitchell was declared inactive down the stretch of the season as the 49ers moved second-year player D.J. Jones into a starting role. Mitchell will be free to sign with any club at the beginning of free agency. The 49ers are keeping the door open for his return at a lower price.
Coach Kyle Shanahan said one day earlier that he has been up front with Mitchell and wide receiver Pierre Garçon about their futures with the team. Garçon is scheduled to earn $6 million in 2019 and is not expected to return to the club, either.
Garçon went on injured reserve this season with a knee injury. He caught just 24 passes for 286 yards in eight games this season.
“Told them both when we know anything that’s for sure, we would tell them,” Shanahan said. “But it’s stuff that’s hard to know for sure. I’ve talked to them about the reality of the business. We have see how our roster is like and how our salary cap plays out. We’re not there yet with our whole plan.
“I think we’ll have the results sooner than later.”
The 49ers are continuing to have talks with some of their scheduled free agents, but Shanahan said he does not believe any contract extension is imminent.
“There are a few guys we’re talking about,” Shanahan said.
Kicker Robbie Gould, defensive back Jimmie Ward, guard Mike Person and punter Bradley Pinion are the team’s top free agents. The 49ers hold sole negotiating rights with their scheduled free agents until March 11, when teams are allowed to negotiate with free agents from other teams.
One guy Shanahan is not discussing, however, is disgruntled Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown. Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice is publcly trying to facilitate a connection between Brown and the 49ers. But there are no signs the 49ers are interested in making a trade for Brown, who turns 31 in July.
Shanahan, of course, is not allowed to comment on Brown, who remains under contract to the Steelrs. The NFL trade window opens on March 13, and Brown does not appear to have a future in Pittsburgh.
“It’s my easiest response there is,” Shanahan said. “I’m not allowed to talk about someone who’s under contract.”
Shanahan said, however, that the 49ers will “always explore everything.”