MOBILE, Ala. -- Ian Rapoport reported on Wednesday that the San Francisco 49ers are going to decline a 2019 club option on defensive lineman Earl Mitchell. A 49ers spokesperson has since confirmed the report, meaning Mitchell will become an unrestricted free agent at the open of the new league year on March 13. Mitchell recorded 36 total tackles, one sack and one fumble recovery in two seasons with the 49ers.
"Earl has been a fantastic asset to this entire organization for all the things that he's done," Robert Saleh said on Wednesday. "It's an opportunity for other guys to try and step up. It will not be easy to try and replace him, that's for sure."
D.J. Jones figures to be the primary benefactor of this decision. Jones started at nose tackle for the final four games of 2018 and is likely to have every opportunity to earn the job again in 2019. Saleh warned, as all coaches will of young players, that it's far too soon to chalk Jones into the role just yet.
"I thought he did a good job (last year)," Saleh said. "Obviously he still has to get better, and there's going to be a lot of competition for him."
Saleh said that Arik Armstead played well at nose tackle in nickel packages last year. There will be others in the mix, regardless of whether they're true nose tackles or not.
"(D.J.'s) competition isn't just at nose -- it's can he be one of our best nine or 10 defensive linemen?" Saleh said. "There's going to be some great competition."
Jones has 27 total tackles through two NFL seasons. This will be a big offseason for him as he enters his third year in San Francisco.
"For the third-year guys -- I'm going to throw Solly (Solomon Thomas) in there, too -- you know the standard," Saleh said. "You know the defense. You know what's being asked of you. Can you recognize offenses fast enough to be able to trigger and do things at a higher level? Usually the third year is a good year for players to click."