Jets DT Javon Kinlaw: 49ers Connections Influenced Free Agent Decision

One of many moves the Jets made in the early portion of free agency was the addition of defensive tackle Javon KinlawThe former first-rounder played out his rookie contract with the 49ers, and as such he had a pre-existing relationship with Jets head coach Robert Saleh. To no surprise, that connection influenced Kinlaw’s decision to head to New York.

“I’m glad we were able to get something done,” the 26-year-old said, via SNY’s John Flanigan. “I kind of banked on it coming into free agency. Saleh played a big part in drafting me in 2020. I always loved being around him and his energy because I could tell that he really believed in me.”

Kinlaw was drafted to replace DeForest Buckner, and he immediately had a starting role as a rookie. He managed to play 14 games that year, but a recurrence of his knee issues dating back to college limited him to just 10 contests between 2021 and ’22. After seeing his fifth-year option declined, the South Carolina product put together his first fully healthy campaign last season, setting himself up for a one-year. $7.5MM Jets deal.

The short-term nature of the New York agreement comes as no surprise given Kinlaw’s injury history. He managed to set a new career-high with 3.5 sacks in 2023, though, demonstrating the pass rush ability which generated his first-round draft stock. Reuniting with defensive line coach Aaron Whitecotton (who served as an assistant in San Francisco when Saleh was the team’s defensive coordinator) could allow Kinlaw to build off his success from last season.

The Jets have another ex-49er along the D-line in the form of Solomon Thomaswho had a productive first season in New York last year. The team also has Quinnen Williams and free agent addition Leki Fotu along the interior, meaning Kinlaw will have plenty of competition for playing time this season. If the latter can thrive under familiar coaches, though, he could prove to be an effective signing and help his free agent stock ahead of the 2025 offseason.

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