Can 49ers' Solomon Thomas Take a Big Step Up?

With Buckner gone, SF will give Thomas an opportunity to make an impact and make a case to stay in 2021

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Solomon Thomas has just one more season remaining on his contract with the 49ers.

In 2020, the 49ers are due to pay the defensive lineman $825,000 in the fourth year of his rookie deal, which was worth as much at $28.2 million.

After 2020, Thomas has a question mark next to his name. The 49ers have an option to retain Thomas for a fifth season in 2021, but at this point that doesn’t seem likely.

Thomas has been a sometimes-nice player for the Niners, but hasn’t been elite. The former No. 3 overall pick of the 2017 draft out of Stanford hasn’t lived up to great expectations. In 2019, Thomas played all 16 regular-season games – with three starts – and had two sacks, 21 combined tackles, six quarterback hits and three tackles for loss.

Over three seasons and 46 games, he’s produced just six sacks.

That’s not exactly the type of player the 49ers hoped they were getting from a draft slot that demands elite production.

The analytic website Pro Football Focus gave Thomas an overall grade of 56.7 for his play in 2019, which puts him in the category of “replaceable.” By comparison, rookie defensive end Nick Bosa, the No. 2 overall pick of the 2019 draft, had a grade of 86.7, the grade of a “Pro Bowler.”

So, as the 49ers assess what moves to make for their future, some reporters, such as Matt Maiocco, indicate the team will “certainly not pick up” Solomon’s fifth-year option for 2021 this offseason.

It’s possible, though, that the team hopes Thomas can have a breakout season in 2020, and it can work out a new deal next season.

That’s not impossible. Thomas’ fellow defensive lineman, Arik Armstead, just received a contract extension after having a breakout season in 2019, which allowed the Niners to trade high-performing defensive lineman DeForest Buckner to the Colts for the 13th overall pick in this spring’s draft – and which could open up new opportunities for Thomas in 2020, wrote Andrew Ortenberg of Pro Football Rumors.

Wrote Ortenberg: “Thomas started at least 12 games in each of his first two seasons, but only started three last year, playing just 41 percent of the defensive snaps. With Buckner out of the way, he could get one last shot to establish himself.”

Certainly, Thomas has shown flashes. Over three postseason games in 2019-2020, Thomas played well, with a sack, quarterback hit and two tackles for loss among his four tackles.

But, the jury is out. Deliberations will occur as 2020 unfolds.

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