While at the NFL Scouting Combine in February, John Lynch saw the writing on the wall: keeping D.J. Jones was going to be difficult.
On Monday, reports surfaced that the Denver Broncos had agreed to terms with the defensive tackle on a three-year, $30 million deal. The contract with Jones is a financial commitment well out of the price range for the 49ers who are currently over the 2022 salary cap.
“If his objective is to stay here, he made it really hard,” Lynch said in February. “I do think it’s going to be challenging.”
The nose tackle, set up alongside Arik Armstead on the interior of the defensive line was nearly impossible to get past for opposing running backs. Jones himself had his best season to date, not missing a contest for the first time in his career.
The 49ers were not able to keep Jones or offensive guard Laken Tomlinson, who will head to New York Jets on a three-year $40 million deal. Now the players that the club has drafted to take their place will need to show their worth.
In the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, the 49ers selected Javon Kinlaw with the No. 14 overall pick. The pressure is now on the South Carolina product to stay healthy and take over as a run stopper in the middle of the line.
In 2021 Kinlaw appeared in four games before undergoing a second knee procedure that ended his sophomore campaign.
In his two seasons with the club, Kinlaw has appeared in 18 games and registered 1.5 sacks, 41 tackles - 16 solo and three for a loss. Hopefully, with his health on the uptick, the club will get even more production from the stout run stopper.
"He’s doing really well, he really is,” Lynch said. “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.
"We don’t want to rush this because he is so critical to our success.”
Now the need for Kinlaw to produce on the field is even higher with the absence of Jones on the roster. The 49ers will still look to have rotational players for support and production on the defensive line but the first-round selection must show why the club used a valuable pick to bring him to Santa Clara.