What should 49ers do with Solomon Thomas in 2020?

Solomon Thomas #94 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
Solomon Thomas #94 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) /

The San Francisco 49ers have a perplexing situation with their former first-round NFL Draft pick, defensive end Solomon Thomas, painting a complex situation in 2020.

2019 was supposed to be a turning-point year for San Francisco 49ers defensive end Solomon Thomas, the team’s top pick from the 2017 NFL Draft, who was selected No. 3 overall.

Thomas never came close to living up to his draft stock his rookie season, perhaps due to him being played out of position for much of the year. In 2018, Thomas had to overcome the tragedy of his sister’s early passing. But in 2019, the thought was Thomas would finally break through, solidifying himself a role on an already-stacked defensive line.

By year’s end, however, Thomas was relegated to a backup, albeit a good piece to have amid a deep crop of former first-round draft picks.

In an ideal world, however, Thomas would have outright won a starting job over his teammate, defensive end Arik Armstead, who now hits an open free-agent market in 2020. Had that happened, the Niners would have been able to let Armstead walk, inserting the younger and cheaper Thomas into the starting role.

Instead, Armstead put himself in position to cash in on a 10-sack season, while Thomas was limited to just over 41 percent of the team’s defensive snaps.

So, what do the 49ers do with Thomas moving forward?

There are some options, of course. There are always options. But they all point in vastly different ways for Thomas in 2020.

Keep Solomon Thomas as an Expensive Backup

Thomas is set to earn $8.96 million in year four of his rookie contract, which all but eliminates the idea San Francisco will waive him, especially considering the amount would entirely be dead money.

If Armstead is somehow re-signed, the status quo essentially remains the same, and Thomas would stay in a backup role at just under $9 million. But even if Armstead walks, base formations would feature EDGEs Nick Bosa and Dee Ford, while D.J. Jones and DeForest Buckner would hold down the defensive tackle spots.

Things get a bit more interesting in sub packages, which have become the predominant formations now. And perhaps that’s where the 49ers bank on Thomas’ final surge.

Give Solomon Thomas Every Chance to Start

Related to the above idea, it’s possible the Niners essentially force Thomas to thrive in a starting role.

At times, Thomas has shown solid prowess along the interior, particularly in third-down passing situations. Given the increase in nickel defenses in recent years, Thomas’ starting presence in a full-time role on the inside could be the only way San Francisco gets a decent return on its top investment from 2017.

The likelihood of this happening, however, would be entirely contingent on Armstead’s future, along with whatever else the 49ers do this offseason, particularly in free agency and the NFL Draft.

Attempt to Trade Solomon Thomas

Just before the 2019 draft, rumors circulated the Niners were shopping Thomas on the trade market. 49ers brass quickly shot the rumor down, although the speculation is enough to suggest it as a real possibility.

Early in February, Niners Nation’s Patrick Holloway suggested San Francisco could consider trading Thomas and a draft pick to another team for essentially nothing in return.

The reason? Clearing that aforementioned near-$9 million in cap space.

The return, most likely, would be the Niners being able to use the additional space to re-sign a player like Armstead, ensuring the team could keep one of its most prominent defenders for at least another season, potentially beyond. In that context, the would-be move makes some sense.

Next. 3 49ers players facing do-or-die seasons in 2020. dark

Of course, the ideal situation would be for Thomas to break out. But that’s been a narrative going on for multiple years now, and it hasn’t come to fruition, putting Thomas into an odd situation heading into 2020.