49ers will hope contract saga is Thomas' only Garnett parallel
Solomon Thomas finally signed his 49ers contract on Friday, ending a nervous wait that was markedly similar to the one the organization experienced with a 2016 first-round pick and one of Thomas' Stanford teammates, guard Joshua Garnett.
While Thomas missed the first day of training camp as a result of his contract saga, Garnett signed on the eve of last year's camp. But the Niners will be hoping that is where the parallels end.
Garnett took some time to crack the starting offensive line -- he did not make his first start until the Week 6 loss to the Buffalo Bills -- and, while he did show plenty of flashes of the dominant run-blocking that convinced the 49ers to move back into the opening round for him, he struggled consistently in pass protection and still has plenty of strides to make.
But the argument can be made that the 49ers could afford a difficult rookie year for a guard. In 2016 San Francisco did not have anywhere close to the talent to be anything other than one of the NFL's basement teams and how Garnett performed was highly unlikely to change that, though Colin Kaepernick certainly could have used some improved protection.
With Thomas, the situation is much different. The 49ers have added significantly on both sides of the ball and should at least be in a position to be much more competitive in 2017.
To say that there is any kind of expectation surrounding the 49ers would be false, but there is a school of thought that the defense will be much better than the 32nd-ranked unit from last year, and Thomas figures to play a substantial role.
San Francisco has an embarrassment of riches on the defensive line with Thomas and another two first-round picks in DeForest Buckner, arguably the Niners' best defensive player in 2016, and Arik Armstead.
The 49ers must have a successful pass rush to take the pressure off a very young secondary and therefore Thomas, set to be employed in the Michael Bennett role where he will play at defensive end on run downs and kick inside to partner Buckner on passing downs, needs to hit the ground running.
Indeed, Thomas cannot afford to suffer from the growing pains Garnett did. If the 49ers are to get to the quarterback consistently, he needs to be a contributor from day one and, for that reason, it is extremely good news that Thomas was signed and able to suit up for the second day of practice.