To make salary cap space, an easy projection for the San Francisco 49ers would have been to extend left guard Laken Tomlinson, who has been the one reliable player along the offensive line since joining the Niners before the start of the 2017 season.
Tomlinson got better as a player each year before having his worst season, at least statistically, in 2020. Tomlinson allowed a career-high in blown block percentage, which was 2.7% — his previous career high was 2.1%. Tomlinson also allowed six sacks, which was also a career-high.
In his defense, the quarterbacks playing behind him didn’t exactly get rid of the ball quickly or do their best to avoid pressure. Of course, an extension could still happen, and don’t rule out the 49ers bringing Tomlinson back even if a contract doesn’t get done before the season, but for a guy who has missed one game during the past four seasons, you should take care of him.
Experience: Six accrued seasons
Weight: 320 pounds
Tomlinson signed a three-year contract extension in 2018. He has three voidable years on his contract after this season. If the 49ers were to release Tomlinson with a post-June-1 designation, they’d save around $3.5 million in cap space. It gets a bit wonky after that, but you can head to Over the Cap to check Tomlinson’s financials out.
Why he might improve in 2021
No longer does Tomlinson have to rely on backup quarterbacks holding the ball for a second longer than they should. If the 49ers “backup” plays this year, it’s the No. 3 overall selection.
Tomlinson goes from playing next to a player in the AAF a couple of seasons ago to playing next to a 35-year-old center who has missed two games during the past five seasons and allowed one sack apiece in three of those seasons.
It didn’t take long for Tomlinson and Trent Williams to get on the same page, which should be the case with Alex Mack. Trust will go a long way. Now, Tomlinson can trust Mack will pick up the stunt and may not have to ride his man longer than he would have. That’s just one of many examples as to why Tomlinson will be better.
I also think having an offseason playing next to Williams and Mack will be a big deal and part of why the Niners' offensive line will be a lot better than even 49ers fans realize.
Will Tomlinson be around after 2021?
Drafting Aaron Banks in the second round was to secure the right guard position. I’m not sure how much the addition of Banks will impact Tomlinson, at least for this season.
The team also drafted Jaylon Moore, but as a Day 3 pick, he’s not expected to come in and start. Also, Moore has been working at left tackle, not left guard. Banks has played both guard spots, so he could switch back to left guard if the team decides to move on from Tomlinson after this season, but that’s not Kyle Shanahan’s style.
If this is Tomlinson’s last season, he’s had a heck of a run with the Niners, and he’s made the players and people around him better. If I’m San Francisco, I’m not letting Tomlinson leave. He’s reliable, but he’s also a lot better than the casual fan thinks.
It’ll be fascinating to see the kind of contract Tomlinson gets next offseason. Whether that’s with San Francisco or someone else remains to be seen.