As everyone is aware, on June 22 guard Laken Tomlinson signed a three-year contract extension worth up to $18 million with $10 million in guarantees. Tomlinson was originally signed a week before last season began and started 15 of the 16 games the 49ers played in 2017. Although this contract isn’t anywhere near the contracts the top guards signed for this free agency period, this is a decent sum of money for an offensive lineman who was at best adequate last year as a starting left guard.
Most of the noise was saying, well we know who the starting left guard is going to be, but he is the second starting offensive lineman from last year to sign an extension this offseason. The first, center Daniel Kilgore, was traded once the 49ers signed Weston Richburg from the Giants. Kilgore was sent to a probable starting position with the Miami Dolphins. If we remember, Kilgore is not the first player John Lynch has signed to a contract extension and then not make the roster in some way; Jeremy Kerley was cut after leading the team in receptions in 2016 and receiving a contract extension.
So does this contract actually mean Tomlinson is going to be the starter on the interior offensive line? That’s a definite possibility. The timing of the signing suggests that Tomlinson will probably not join Kilgore and Kerley as ex-49ers who thought their future with the team was safe. Both of them signed extensions early in the offseason as insurance policies if future plans didn’t pan out. At this point in the offseason, barring a surprise trade (who knows if Lynch thinks they’re close enough to the Super Bowl to trade an all important early-round draft pick for a starting guard), Tomlinson’s spot on this roster was safe before his signing last Friday. There are no starting-level free-agent guards available at this point, and there aren’t three guards on the roster better than Tomlinson, which is kind of scary.
This signing puts more pressure on Joshua Garnett and Jonathon Cooper to earn a starting position at the right guard spot, which would signal to the other that he probably will not make the roster. Neither one is versatile enough to keep around as a backup lineman. It’s more likely that the Kyle Shanahan keeps a player like Mike Person who is able to play multiple positions along the offensive line.
The 49ers have been collecting first round lineman. They are a lock to start four first round picks (Joe Staley, Tomlinson, Mike McGlinchey, and either Cooper or Garnett). Lynch has given a lot of praise to Tomlinson lately, saying, “Laken is a very talented player who has improved consistently since joining the team one week before last year’s season opener.” He appears to be another young player Lynch and Shanahan are comfortable building the offensive line with.
Tomlinson’s improvement culminated with him playing his best game of the season in the Week 17 win over the Rams. In that game he allowed no quarterback pressures and was named to PFF’s all-NFL team for that week. Jimmy Garoppolo helped that improvement with his quick release and ability to stand in the pocket or avoid an interior rush with quicker feet than you would expect, but Tomlinson’s comfort in Shanahan’s system also appeared to improve.
49ers fans hope that Tomlinson can tap into the talent that made him a consensus first team All-American coming into the NFL in 2015 and that his improvement will continue. Being only 26 years old, if he can perform and continue to improve the way he did down the stretch last season, then we could see Tomlinson starting at LG for the better part of the next decade and another contract extension in a couple of years.
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