Lynch excited for healthy Kinlaw in 49ers' D-line rotation


PHOENIX — The 49ers’ decision to pursue and sign veteran free-agent defensive tackle Javon Hargrave likely is to bump Javon Kinlaw out of the starting line.

But 49ers general manager John Lynch said Kinlaw still factors prominently into the team’s plan for the upcoming season.

“I’m really excited for (Kinlaw) because he’s going into an offseason healthy,” Lynch said at the NFL Annual Meeting. “We’re committed to him and watching him be part of this group. He’s excited about that.”

The 49ers selected Kinlaw at No. 14 overall in the 2020 NFL Draft to replace DeForest Buckner, whom the 49ers traded to the Indianapolis Colts.

Kinlaw missed 26 games in his first three NFL seasons due to a problematic knee condition. He underwent an ACL reconstruction in his right knee during the 2021 season.

Even when he’s been on the field, Kinlaw has not produced at the level the 49ers were expecting. He has 1.5 sacks and 45 tackles in 24 games. The club is not expected to pick up Kinlaw's fifth-year option next month, which would make him an unrestricted free agent next offseason.

“Maybe because of the injuries it hasn’t gone as well as we all might have anticipated, as well as it would have had he been healthy,” Lynch said. “That’s part of this thing, so now he is healthy. He gets to be a part of how we rotate guys in and out. He’s going to be part of that rotation.”

There is less pressure on Kinlaw to perform now that the 49ers signed Hargrave to a four-year, $84 million contract. Hargrave is coming off a season in which he registered a career-best 11 sacks for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan targeted the defensive line as an area that could be improved with the signing of a big-ticket free agent. Hargrave gives the 49ers another star-quality player to line up alongside Nick Bosa, the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and Arik Armstead.

“Kyle and I started talking, ‘How do you improve this team?’” Lynch said. “And the one area that was glaring to us — and it’s interesting to say this because we were the No. 1 defense in football — but we felt like we’d fallen off maybe just a tad on the D-line.

“It wasn’t as dominant as we were accustomed to back in ’19. And we wanted to get back to that.”

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During free agency, the 49ers have lost defensive linemen Samson Ebukam (Indianapolis), Charles Omenihu (Kansas City), Jordan Willis (Las Vegas) and Hassan Ridgeway (Houston).

They have signed defensive linemen Hargrave, Clelin Ferrell (Las Vegas) and Austin Bryant (Detroit).

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