The 49ers are unlikely to exercise DT Javon Kinlaw‘s fifth-year option, as Matt Barrows of The Athletic writes (subscription required). Given that Kinlaw has played in just 10 regular season games over the past two seasons, that should be a fairly easy call for GM John Lynch.
Drafted in 2020 with the No. 14 overall selection — the pick that the 49ers acquired from the Colts in the DeForest Buckner trade — Kinlaw has battled intermittent knee trouble since his college days. He appeared in 14 games (12 starts) in his rookie season, but he played in just four contests in 2021 before undergoing season-ending knee surgery (which was later reported to be an ACL reconstruction).
Kinlaw, 25, opened the 2022 campaign as a starting defensive tackle alongside Arik Armstead, but he played just three games before more knee problems landed him on IR. He returned for the final three games of the regular season and started all three of San Francisco’s playoff contests, though his performance left much to be desired. Pro Football Focus assigned him an abysmal 36.7 run defense grade, and he also failed to replicate the interior pass rush presence that D.J. Jones offered before he signed with the Broncos last offseason. All things considered, then, it makes sense that the club would decline the chance to lock Kinlaw into a fully-guaranteed $10.5MM salary for 2024.
Kinlaw will, at least, get one more chance to rebuild his stock before hitting the open market. 10 of the 14 defensive linemen who played a snap for the Niners in 2022 are currently out of contract, and cutting Kinlaw would not result in any cap relief. Still, the club will probably search for DT reinforcements, as Kinlaw was hardly a world-beater even when he was mostly available as a rookie. Legal issues aside, Lynch could look to re-sign Charles Omenihu, though he may be too expensive to retain — PFF estimates a contract featuring a $9MM AAV — and Barrows says the team may want more of a run-stuffer anyway when it comes to DT options.
Lynch may also be on the hunt for DE upgrades. With Nick Bosa on one side of the line, San Francisco reportedly feels as if it should have a more elite edge rush, so the team could look to move on from Samson Ebukam and target a player like Yannick Ngakoue or Marcus Davenport, or it could consider a trade. Of course, the team is presently without a first- or second-round pick in the 2023 draft and does not have a ton of salary cap space, so it will be difficult to make too many high-end acquisitions. The 49ers will also hope that 2022 second-rounder Drake Jackson, who flashed as a rookie despite being a healthy scratch in five of the last six games of the season, will take a step forward.