The San Francisco 49ers boast one of the deepest defensive lines in the NFL in 2019, yet it has become apparent defensive end Solomon Thomas isn’t a big part of the plan. Trading him would be a wise and timely move.
In an ideal world, the Niners would be getting a massive uptick in production from the third-year defensive end in 2019. It would justify general manager John Lynch using the team’s top pick, No. 3 overall, back during the 2017 NFL Draft. While the first two years’ results weren’t great, at least some late surge would help warrant the selection.
Second, it would allow San Francisco to move on from another former first-round pick, defensive tackle Arik Armstead, who is in a contract year and is in line to sign his first big free-agent deal in 2020.
Through two weeks of the season, Armstead is the favorite in the rotation. Thomas, meanwhile, has been relegated to a role player, seeing a mere 12 defensive snaps in Week 1 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Thomas was more active the following week against the Cincinnati Bengals, logging 33 defensive snaps and recording three tackles, three quarterback hits and a sack.
Thomas hasn’t been the primary beneficiary here, rather the depth lineman, Ronald Blair, who was arguably San Francisco’s best up-front defender in Week 2.
Now, none of this is to slander Thomas, of course. The 49ers did him no favors his rookie season by playing him out of position — on the outside as an EDGE instead of an inside rusher — and the 2018 premature death of his sister, Ella, had a profound effect on his on-field efforts.
Thomas is a stand-up person, too, both in his interviews with Niner Noise and in the work he has done to raise awareness for mental health.
On the field, though, is what matters in this context.
Lynch denied a pre-2019 NFL Draft trade rumor, suggesting Thomas was on the block. But that was before Bosa. And while it’s always helpful to have depth, the role Thomas is playing currently isn’t exactly something tough to fill.
And despite Thomas owning just five career sacks over two-plus years at the pro level, there’s still value in his run-stopping abilities.
Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox explained:
"As the third overall pick in the 2017 draft, Thomas has the sort of potential teams should be willing to take a chance on. The 49ers don’t need potential. They are ready to contend now, and they should consider sending Thomas to a rebuilding team such as the Arizona Cardinals or a contending team in need of a run-stuffing end."
Knox also listed the Kansas City Chiefs, who were extremely vulnerable against the run in 2018, as another possible trade partner.
The Niners will likely never be able to make up for the 2017 investment they made in Thomas. Trading him off would probably net nothing more than a day-three draft pick in return. But recent history shows Lynch and Co. have used mid- and late-round picks on both solid and great players. Tight end George Kittle (Round 5 in 2017) comes to mind.
And Thomas, just 23 years old and on his rookie contract with a fifth-year option still available, can be an attractive commodity for a team looking to upgrade its run defense.
If the 49ers truly weren’t considering it before the draft, reopening the discussion now would be a wise move.