Success of 49ers DeForest Buckner trade rides on Solomon Thomas

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) /

With the San Francisco 49ers making a huge move, trading star defensive tackle DeForest Buckner to the Colts for the 13th overall pick, all eyes will now point towards Solomon Thomas.

Well, the start of the NFL’s legal tampering period for free agency could not be described as uneventful, to say the least.

The San Francisco 49ers made two huge moves as free agency unofficially began, first signing defensive end Arik Armstead to a five-year, $85 million contract (h/t and then trading Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts for the 13th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft (h/t Pro Football Talk).

The trade takes one of the critical pieces of the 49ers vaunted defensive front out of the picture. Niner Noise’s Peter Panacy talked about the potential long-term benefits of the trade, citing cap space and a high draft pick that can restock the youth cupboards.

But short term, the trade will undoubtedly be a tough pill to swallow.

For this trade to be considered a success, the Niners will need to A) use the money they freed up for either an extension or an impact signing, B) get a blue-chip prospect or reinvigorate the roster with young talent through the draft and C) mitigate the impact on the field this year.

The third part, mitigating the loss of Buckner, will prove the hardest, simply because you don’t just replace a Pro-Bowl-caliber player with a flick of the wrist. That said, the 49ers have one player who can make this trade look like an unquestioned success: Solomon Thomas.

Thomas was the third overall pick from the 2017 draft whose greatest benefit to the 49ers has been the trade that moved the Niners down a slot to select him and got them linebacker Fred Warner in the process. Thomas had been played out of position as an outside end for the majority of his career, and when he was given opportunities on the inside, it didn’t match up to the expectations of a player at his draft position.

That said, Thomas flashed signs of life and talent during the 2019 season, especially when playing alongside more talented defensive compatriots. The position he also plays, when utilized most effectively, is the very one Buckner inhabited. Entering the final stages of his rookie deal, Thomas has all the opportunities to make a name for himself.

High-impact defensive linemen are rare to come by, and typically it takes a while for players to develop and mature into them. While many fans have grown impatient with Thomas’ progression, he still has time, and now he has a chance.

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This trade for the 49ers is a defining one that will determine quite a bit about their future. But if Thomas can provide even a bit of high-level play in replacement of Buckner, then the Niners will come out of this trade in great shape.