49ers GM John Lynch Admits Luring Back Key Defender Will be ‘Challenging’

John Lynch

Getty 49ers general manager John Lynch addresses reporters during the NFL Scouting Combine on Wednesday, March 2.

John Lynch witnessed the San Francisco 49ers overcome incredible odds by battling through injuries, inconsistency and a 3-5 start to nearly capturing their second NFC title since January 2020.

Now come these next odds the 49ers, more so the general manager Lynch faces this offseason: Keeping key members of the 2021 team together.

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Lynch took part in his media session with reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine on Wednesday, March 2. He mentioned one free agent that, by his admission, will be hard to keep on the 49ers’ side.

But it wasn’t quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, the subject of constant trade talk.

The 49er Who ‘Made it Really Hard’ for S.F. to Keep

Defensive tackle D.J. Jones was who Lynch mentioned.

The general manager fell in love with the interior defender and the presence he brought to a loaded 49ers’ trench unit. But he told reporters that preventing Jones from drifting away from the Bay Area will be a hard task.

“If his objective is to stay here, he made it really hard,” Lynch told reporters at the NFL combine. “I do think it’s going to be challenging.”

Jones became a stout trench penetrator who racked up three sacks, 64 tackles, 44 solo stops and 11 tackles for a loss — the latter number representing the second-best total among 49er defenders. Jones even added a rare defensive stop on special teams during the season:

Per Jordan Elliot of SB Nation, the 27-year-old Jones was tops in the league in the category of run stop win rate:

And in Jones’ last game, he helped stall a crucial fourth and short possession despite the narrow 20-17 road loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams.

“He’s such a good human being,” Lynch said. “When I talk about my favorite people in the building I’m not afraid to say D.J. is right at the top of the list. He’s a guy who treats the people behind serving lunch as well as anyone.”

Where Could Jones go if the 49ers Don’t Maintain Him?

If Jones isn’t able to resign with the 49ers, even on a lesser deal, he’ll likely command a high presence for teams needing to bolster their defensive trenches.

Per Dalton Miller of the Pro Football Network, Jones is listed as the No. 35 best free agent available for the 2022 cycle. But there’s more from PFN: Jones is the top interior defender available.

PFN has the Cleveland Browns as one potential suitor, with Miller calling Jones “a trash can full of dirt” because he’s hard to move on the line. But there are other suitors:

Las Vegas: Sportsnaut’s Maurice Moton has Jones as the Raiders’ 10th best free agent priority. The Raiders have four defensive tackles including savvy veteran Johnathan Hankins listed as unrestricted free agents.

Los Angeles Chargers: The Bolts have one less free agent defensive tackles compared to the Raiders, but Linval Joseph is one of them and has a value of $8.5 million. Joseph is already projected to move on from L.A.

Buffalo: The Bills could be the most decimated in the trenches through free agency. Seven free agents, including veterans Jerry Hughes and Vernon Butler, could walk. A possible pairing with fellow undersized DT Ed Oliver could be enticing for the Bills.

New York Jets: Former 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and his front office could be the ones who raid the ‘Niners the most. Already, Arden Key has been linked as a Jets possibility. Jones could form a quick and powerful tandem with Quinnen Williams, who tied for the Jets lead with 6 sacks.

For a 49ers team whose defensive strength was the front line, it would be highly beneficial if they somehow keep Jones. Lynch, however, sounds like there’s a chance someone else will wear No. 93 on the ‘Niners in 2022.

“He’s just a great person. That would be a tough one to lose but there might be that chance,” Lynch said.

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