Solomon Thomas was seen as a can’t-miss prospect, and the 49ers were all in, taking him with the No. 3 overall pick of the draft in 2017.
Thomas’ head coach at Stanford, David Shaw, certainly was a believer, saying at the time of the draft, "He’s an extraordinary young man. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does at the next level."
Three years later, Thomas is, indeed, an extraordinary young man. Yet he hasn’t become an extraordinary defensive lineman in the NFL.
The 49ers have a wealth of talent on the defensive line with fellow first-round picks Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, Nick Bosa and Dee Ford, but Thomas has yet to become a major player.
Over 16 games in 2019, Thomas had just two sacks and 21 total tackles. Over three seasons he has just six sacks.
Thomas goes into 2020 in the final year of his rookie contract, due to be paid $735,000 in base salary but counting almost $9 million under the salary cap. The 49ers hold a fifth-year option for 2021.
With the 49ers now coming off a Super Bowl season and facing roster decisions to keep them winning in 2020 and beyond – while balancing the salary-cap restrictions that come with better talent and winning – it’s possible that Thomas could be going into his final season with the franchise.
So far, his production just hasn’t matched his contract.
In fact, analyst Bill Barnwell of ESPN made that point recently when suggesting five moves the 49ers should make this offseason. One is to decline Thomas’ fifth-year option. That option calls for the 49ers to pay Thomas in 2021 a salary "equivalent to the average of the top 10 salaries" at his position.
Wrote Barnwell: "It’s difficult to imagine the 49ers seeing that as reasonable value for someone who played only 41% of the defensive snaps in 2019, down from 60% in 2018. He also (played) just 32% of the defensive snaps during the postseason. The 49ers are unusually blessed up front, but Thomas hasn’t been forcing them to give him more playing time.
"He could break out in Year 4, but the 49ers probably need to be realistic here."