49ers can’t afford franchise tag on free-agent Laken Tomlinson

San Francisco 49ers guard Laken Tomlinson (75) Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
San Francisco 49ers guard Laken Tomlinson (75) Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports /

The 49ers would like to do whatever it takes to keep left guard Laken Tomlinson around in NFL free agency, but the franchise tag isn’t a plausible option.

Teams typically don’t like to use the franchise tag, and the bulk of players hitting the NFL free agency market usually like to avoid it, too, specifically with the intent of landing a long-term lucrative deal.

The San Francisco 49ers haven’t historically used the franchise tag a lot in recent years, the lone exception under head coach Kyle Shanahan being kicker Robbie Gould who received it in 2019, only to subsequently go through a renegotiation that added three more years onto that initial deal.

Entering the 2022 offseason, the Niners have a number of challenges in NFL free agency, but among the toughest will be the decision of whether or not to re-sign veteran left guard Laken Tomlinson.

Tomlinson, who just turned 30 years old and made his first Pro Bowl last season, is going to have a hot market for his services after being a stalwart for San Francisco’s offensive line after being acquired from the Detroit Lions at the beginning of the 2017 season, not missing a start since.

What will Laken Tomlinson cost 49ers in 2022?

Tomlinson’s current deal — three years, $16.5 million, according to Over the Cap — expires in 2022. And while there’s a lot of wiggle room for what his max value would be and what the 49ers would pay him, the folks over at Pro Football Focus suggested another three-year deal worth $27 million would be in order.

The annual average value of $9 million is just a small shade over what OTC valued Tomlinson’s 2021 value ($8.947 million), so that kind of figure makes sense.

It’s possible Tomlinson could command more, though, potentially earning $10-plus million if there’s a high demand and bidding war.

Could 49ers use a franchise tag on Laken Tomlinson?

Short answer? Yes, the Niners absolutely could prevent Tomlinson from hitting the free-agent market by slapping the franchise tag on him this offseason.

That doesn’t mean they will or even should, however.

The window for teams to use the franchise tag opens on Feb. 22, and teams can frequently use it as a tool to extend contract negotiations. If no deal is agreed upon by the summer deadline, though, the tagged player plays the duration of the fully guaranteed one-year deal.

Read More: 4 free agents 49ers must re-sign at all costs

On the surface, it might make sense for San Francisco to use the franchise tag. But even after the 49ers make their anticipated trade of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, OTC projects them to have approximately $20 million of available salary-cap space for 2022, and $8 million of that should be reserved for the team’s NFL Draft class.

True, some roster jockeying could free up additional space. However, OTC projects the 2022 franchise-tag value for offensive linemen at $16.698 million.

It’s hard to envision a scenario where the Niners commit more than their projected cap space for a fully guaranteed amount for Tomlinson, especially if he’d be poised to make significantly less on a free-agent re-sign deal.

So, while San Francisco could feasible take the franchise-tag route, it doesn’t appear to be a likely route at all.

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