49ers face difficult decision with Ricky Jean-Francois


Will the Niners bring back their versatile reserve defensive lineman?

The San Francisco 49ers carried over less than $1 million from 2012 to add to their 2013 salary cap, and that leaves them with little room in the offseason. They should be right up against the cap with their current commitments, which means they will have to make decisions on young players like defensive tackle Ricky Jean-Francois who are set to hit the free agent market.

Jean-Francois worked primarily as a reserve in 2012. He has the size to play inside, but is also versatile enough to rush the passer on occasion. Jean-Francois recorded career highs in tackles (22), sacks (2.0), and starts (3) last season, and is hitting what should be the prime of his career. Can he be part of San Francisco's future plans?

The only likely possibility that has Jean-Francois returning to San Francisco is if they decide to make him their new starter at the nose tackle position, as 49ers blog Niners Nation reports that the team won't want re-sign current starter Isaac Sapoaga at his current $4 million salary. Jean-Francois is going to have plenty of suitors on the free agent market, and that will drive his price up to the multi-millions. He made $625,000 in 2012.

There will be other tackles around Jean-Francois (26) looking to grab their first big free agent contract this offseason, including Jacksonville's Terrance Knighton, Chicago's Henry Melton, Tennessee's SenDerrick Marks, and Tampa Bay's Roy Miller.

All those players have logged far more starts in their careers than Jean-Francois. Melton is likely to receive plenty of money, coming off of a six-sack 2012, and he may set the tone for the rest of the group.

There would be similar free agent options for the 49ers should Jean-Francois sign elsewhere, but he has spent the last four seasons in San Francisco and is familiar with the staff and system. However, if the Niners aren't ready to commit to starter money (or if they just can't afford it), they may be looking to use a portion of their 15 draft picks to fill the middle of the defensive line.

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