SF 49ers free agency: It makes sense to re-sign Solomon Thomas

San Francisco 49ers defensive end Solomon Thomas (94) Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
San Francisco 49ers defensive end Solomon Thomas (94) Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

The SF 49ers never got the production from their top pick in 2017, but it still makes sense to re-sign Solomon Thomas in 2021.

Did the SF 49ers get anything close to the kind of desired returns from their top pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, defensive end Solomon Thomas?

No, nothing of the sort.

The No. 3 overall pick in that year’s draft, the first player selected by general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan, fell short of expectations his rookie season before having to deal with the passing of his sister a year later. Years three and four were marked by disappointment, too, particularly with Thomas’ season-ending ACL tear suffered in Week 2 against the NY Jets.

Without his fifth-year option picked up, letting Thomas go in NFL free agency in 2021 seemed like the only legitimate possibility.

Except it might actually be a good idea for the Niners to retain the former Stanford product on a re-sign deal.

Solomon Thomas won’t be an expensive commodity

Thomas is going to be associated with the “bust” moniker likely for the rest of his career. That’s unfortunate, yes. But while he never assumed the status of being a cornerstone piece, thereby forcing San Francisco to use additional resources in subsequent years to address the defensive line, Thomas did emerge as a key role player in 2018 and 2019, playing 60 and 41 percent of defensive snaps in those two seasons, respectively.

Solomon Thomas Defense & Fumbles Table

Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com
Generated 1/14/2021.

Simply put, Thomas was a decent player during that stretch, particularly defending against the run.

Run-stoppers aren’t expensive commodities at the NFL level, and Thomas surely understands he won’t command the kind of big-money deal many players can get when they hit unrestricted free agency for the first time.

Especially coming off an ACL tear.

As such, the SF 49ers would likely be able to retain him on a team-friendly, veteran’s minimum deal.

There’s a need, too.

SF 49ers have D-line depth concerns

The Niners were scraping the bottom of the proverbial barrel with their defensive line in 2020, particularly after injuries to players like Thomas, EDGE Nick Bosa and defensive tackles D.J. Jones and Kevin Givens.

One of the formulas behind San Francisco’s D-line success in 2019 was having a solid rotation, yet that factor was removed largely last season.

Making things tougher is the fact Jones is poised to be a free agent, while fellow EDGE Dee Ford‘s health status remains a massive question mark entering 2021. With fellow linemen like Kerry Hyder, Dion Jordan, Jordan Willis also poised to hit free agency, it’s not hard to see how the SF 49ers’ depth concerns are only going to magnify this upcoming season.

The Niners could use 2021 NFL Draft resources to stockpile the defensive line, or they could choose to attack it in NFL free agency, too.

But why not retain a player on the cheap who’s already familiar with the system? That’s where retaining a player like Thomas makes sense.

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The expectation level would be minimal, and Thomas would be asked to provide both depth and the occasional spot-starter role to guard against injury. It wouldn’t cost much, and it would help maintain some sort of continuity, too.