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What Laken Tomlinson trade might mean for Joshua Garnett injury

The 49ers decision to trade for offensive lineman Laken Tomlinson raises some questions.

NFL: New York Jets at San Francisco 49ers Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers formally announced the acquisition of offensive lineman Laken Tomlinson on Thursday. Tomlinson must pass a physical, but if he does, the 49ers are reportedly sending a fifth round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft to the Detroit Lions in the deal.

The acquisition of Tomlinson raises some questions about the 49ers guard position. Joshua Garnett remains sidelined with a knee injury, and Zane Beadles and Brandon Fusco have been the starters. Garnett was slotted in on the left side before the injury, and Beadles has taken over that role. The reserve depth could include Tim Barnes and/or Erik Magnuson.

Given Tomlinson’s primary play on the left side, his acquisition would seem to suggest the team is not expecting Joshua Garnett back right away. Kyle Shanahan previously would not commit to Garnett returning by Week 1, and that would seem to be the case at this point. However, it also opens the door for Garnett to open the season on injured reserve.

The IR rules allow for a maximum of two players to return during the season, and the team does not have to pre-designate them for that. However, it is worth noting that a player cannot return to game action for at least eight weeks if he is placed on IR and eventually brought back.

Where this gets particularly interesting is with roster cuts. Teams cannot return a player from injured reserve unless he goes on the list AFTER the final roster cuts. So, the 49ers will cut down to 53 players on Saturday, and they would have to wait until at least Sunday to then place Garnett on IR. If that is the plan, that means one of two things. The first is that they could cut a player Saturday, and assuming he clears waivers, sign him again on Sunday once Garnett’s roster spot is free. The second is that they find someone they like on waivers after final roster cuts, and use Garnett’s roster spot to land him.

There is no guarantee the 49ers will place Garnett on IR. They could think he still will return sooner rather than later, but this acquisition suggests otherwise.