Defensive tackle Solomon Thomas will get a fresh start in 2021.
He will have a new contract, no longer burdened with the expectations that come with being paid like the No. 3 overall pick in the draft.
Thomas is currently rehabbing from surgery to repair tears to the ACL, lateral meniscus and medial patellofemeral ligament in his left knee. He expects to be ready long in advance of the regular season.
But, first, after his original four-year contract with the 49ers expires in mid-March, he will be an unrestricted free agent.
“I’m excited for free agency,” Thomas told NBC Sports Bay Area. “I love the Niners, and I love the coaches there. I love the program there, and if that works out, that’ll be amazing. But, if not, I’m excited to test free agency. I’m excited to see what situation is perfect for me.
“I’m going into free agency to find the perfect situation for me, where I can excel and play where I need to play and just be me. That’s my goal. I really believe I’m just getting started. I think I haven’t started, yet. I’m ready to go out there and show myself how great I am.”
A year ago, the 49ers declined to pick up the fifth-year option on Thomas' contract, allowing him to be an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
He appeared in 48 games in four seasons with 30 starts for the 49ers. He registered 95 tackles and six sacks. His fourth season ended in Week 2 with his knee injury at MetLife Stadium against the New York Jets.
Thomas certainly did not live up to the expectations that come along with being a high draft pick. The 49ers seemed to struggle to find which position was the best fit for him. Off the field, his world was shattered after his rookie season when his sister, Ella, died by suicide. Thomas became a vocal advocate for mental health and suicide prevention.
The Jets could be interested in signing Thomas. New head coach Robert Saleh and his staff will look to build the program with individuals of strong character.
Saleh added Aaron Whitecotton from the 49ers’ staff to serve as his defensive line coach. Former 49ers linebacker Jeff Ulbrich will be the Jets’ defensive coordinator. Ulbrich tried to recruit Thomas to UCLA as an assistant coach before Thomas signed with Stanford.
“I’m very familiar with this defense,” Thomas said. “I know the ins and outs of it. I know the scheme. I know the effort, and I’m somebody who could go in and lead a defense like that.
“I will be happy to play there, but I’m just looking for the perfect situation. I love those coaches and I love everything they’ve done for me.”
The 49ers could also look to re-sign Thomas on a short-term, low-risk contract.
DeMeco Ryans received a promotion from linebacker coach to take over as the club’s defensive coordinator on Kyle Shanahan’s staff. Playing for Ryans is potentially another attractive option for Thomas.
“I love ‘Meco, and I think he’s a great coach. He’s a fiery coach, and he loves his players,” Thomas said. “I think he’s going to continue something along similar lines with the same defense, maybe switch up a little bit of the blitzing.
“I’m not exactly sure how he’s going to change it up, but I know whatever twist he puts on it is going to be great. I’m really excited for him.”