49ers will give Solomon Thomas one more chance in 2020
By Peter Panacy
The San Francisco 49ers have received disappointing results from their top pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, defensive end Solomon Thomas. But it sounds like he’ll have one more opportunity to carve out a long-term role.
Back in 2017, the San Francisco 49ers were hoping their top pick from that year’s NFL Draft, former Stanford defensive end Solomon Thomas, would become a cornerstone piece for the franchise’s defense.
After all, that’s what top-five selections in the draft are supposed to be. And even after the Niners traded down a spot with the Chicago Bears from No. 2 overall to take Thomas, the eventual results over the past three years have been anything but cornerstone-like.
Through three years, Thomas has registered a total of just six sacks, going from a regular starter to a reserve player in 2019. The lack of production heavily influenced the team’s decision to draft another outside pass-rusher in 2019, Nick Bosa, followed by an interior addition in the 2020 NFL Draft, South Carolina’s Javon Kinlaw, at No. 14 overall.
So it’s no surprise the Niners aren’t likely to pick up Thomas’ fifth-year option, as pointed out by general manager John Lynch on Thursday during an appearance on San Francisco’s 95.7 The Game.
Lynch didn’t rule out a possible new deal, however, suggesting there’s a possibility San Francisco creates an extension for Thomas between now and when his rookie deal is set to expire in 2021.
“So I don’t think that’s any absolute or it doesn’t mean that we love don’t Solomon,” Lynch said. “I think we’re incredibly encouraged. Solomon’s going to (have) a big part.”
This kind of move isn’t without precedent. After the 49ers traded with the Detroit Lions for another former first-round selection, offensive guard Laken Tomlinson in 2017, the Niners elected not to pick up his fifth-year option, instead offering him a three-year extension worth $16.5 million. Top-10 defensive ends’ fifth-year options can net over $15 million, according to a 2017 report from CBS Sports analyst and former NFL agent Joel Corry.
There’s no way San Francisco would want to pony up that kind of money for Thomas.
Yet that doesn’t rule out the possibility Thomas returns to the 49ers on a much lighter deal, reflective of the role he currently occupies.
Thomas figured to see an uptick in field time after the Niners traded away Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts earlier this offseason. After using their first pick in the 2020 NFL Draft on Kinlaw, however, Thomas could easily revert back to being a rotational player.
But Lynch indicated that could be part of the long-term equation, too.
“Everybody’s who’s watched us knows we rotate a lot of players there,” Lynch added. “We believe in them going as hard as they can and then we rotate, kind of like hockey lines. Solomon’s going to be a big part of that rotation. We’ve kind of charged him with putting a little weight on. Last year he got really light, which helped in his quickness, but I don’t know if he had enough substance in terms of weight. And so he’s going to come back a little heavier.”
What all this means is fairly simple: San Francisco is giving Thomas one more chance to prove he can be a worthwhile piece in the team’s defensive rotation.
The Kinlaw addition all but assures the expectation level on Thomas won’t be overly high, essentially asking him to be no more than depth and a rotational piece. And if he handles those assignments well enough, fine. It wouldn’t be shocking to see the Niners pay Thomas accordingly, should Lynch and Co. see a new contract extension as the route to take.
Still, it’s hard to admit anything other than the 49ers’ top pick from the 2017 draft being underwhelming, even though they’re willing to give him another shot at sticking around in the long run.
Hat tip to Chris Biderman of the Sacramento Bee for the find and transcription.