Why Solomon Thomas calls 'love' key to 49ers' Super Bowl appearance

Why Solomon Thomas calls 'love' key to 49ers' Super Bowl appearance

SANTA CLARA -- The thoughts of defensive lineman Solomon Thomas drifted toward three young members of the 49ers family who were not at Levi’s Stadium on Sunday night to participate in the celebration.

In the past two years, Thomas, the York family and C.J. Beathard dealt with tragic deaths of young loved ones.

Thomas’ sister, Ella, 24, died on Jan. 23, 2018.

Tony York, 35, son of 49ers owners John and Denise York, and brother of CEO Jed York, died on Dec. 7, 2018.

And Clayton Beathard, 22, younger brother of 49ers quarterback C.J., was the victim of a fatal stabbing on Dec. 21.

“I wish she was here to celebrate with me, but I know she’s smiling up there,” Thomas said of his sister after the 49ers’ 37-20 win over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game.

“I’m happy for the Yorks. I know Tony is watching. And I know C.J.’s brother, Clayton, is watching, as well. This team has been through a lot. That’s why we love each other. That’s why this brotherhood is so strong. We’ve all been here for each other since Day 1. That’s why we’re here.”

The 49ers’ victory on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium earned the organization its seventh trip to the Super Bowl. The 49ers will face the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV on Sunday, Feb. 2, in Miami.

Thomas, 24, has played just three NFL seasons, but he has experienced so much after coming to the 49ers as the first draft pick of general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan after they were hired together in 2017.

The No. 3 overall pick from Stanford has experienced difficult times on and off the field. Now, where Thomas was selected in the draft is of little importance. He is fitting in as a key rotational player on the 49ers’ deep and talented defensive line.

“Those seasons where we were losing, we kept fighting,” Thomas said. “We never stopped. We believed in coach. And it paid off, and we still have one game to go. We love this team. We love each other and we keep playing for each other. That’s why we’re here. We’re not going to stop until we win that thing, so let’s go do it.”

After starting 25 games in his first two NFL seasons, Thomas’ role was decreased this season after the club added veteran Dee Ford in a trade and Nick Bosa in the draft. But Thomas brings value to the team.

He registered a sack in the 49ers’ divisional-round victory over the Minnesota Vikings, and Thomas played 23 snaps, fifth-most among the team’s defensive linemen, in the win over the Packers. Thomas said his focus for the next two weeks is on preparing to do whatever is asked of him to contribute to a win over the Chiefs.

“I just want to do my part, doing my 1/11,” he said. “I want to be there for the guy next to me. I want to be accountable. I want to show up. I got a lot left to prove, and it’s not about me. It’s about this team, and I just want to do my part and do what I can for this team to make sure we win.”

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There is an unmistakable bond that the 49ers have created in their locker room that was forged out of the shared experiences of work, determination, trust and compassion. Thomas believes those factors are major reasons why the 49ers went from being a team that won just 10 games in two seasons to the Super Bowl.

“It’s how much we love each other and why we fight for each other,” Thomas said. “It’s not a selfish team. We make sacrifices for each other. We play for each other. That’s what this game is all about. That’s why we’re here.”

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (5:30 p.m. Monday and Wednesday; 8:00 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; 6:00 p.m. Friday).

49ers mailbag: Could co-coordinators ease Kyle Shanahan's workload?

49ers mailbag: Could co-coordinators ease Kyle Shanahan's workload?

It has been two weeks since the 49ers’ loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV. That’s more than enough time to turn the page and look ahead.

So that’s what we’re doing -- with the help from some of our Twitter friends. Here is the first offseason edition of the 49ers Mailbag.

Kyle Shanahan is one of the best play-callers in the NFL. I don’t think there’s even a question about that. Is there? So I can’t envision any scenario in which Shanahan stops doing the thing he does best.

Shanahan certainly believes McDaniel and LaFleur are ready to call plays. McDaniel and LaFleur are, in essence, co-offensive coordinators. They are responsible for putting together the first components of the weekly game plan.

Through the first three seasons together with the 49ers, they have found a pretty good rhythm together and Shanahan finds himself placing more trust in them. What they’re doing is working.

If the 49ers have the $19 million-plus in cap room to devote to a franchise tag for Arik Armstead, then I think they could work out a long-term deal that would work for both sides.

As for the question about a tag-and-trade, I’m sure you’re thinking about how the Kansas City Chiefs tagged Dee Ford a year ago and, then, traded him to the 49ers. In that instance, the Chiefs had Frank Clark on the line, so that made sense.

In this case, I don’t think there’s anyone who plays Armstead’s position they would prefer over him. Armstead is exactly what the 49ers need: A defensive end on base downs who moves inside next to DeForest Buckner to rush the passer in nickel situations.

There is no need for the 49ers to do anything with Thomas, except work with him to continue to improve and become more valuable as a rotational player on the defensive line. The 49ers certainly will not pick up the fifth-year option on Thomas for the 2021 season. But with Thomas’ rookie contract guaranteed, there is no cap advantage in parting ways with him this year.

Regardless, Thomas should have a significant role next season. But if for whatever reason Armstead is not back, Thomas has a strong chance to be a starter.

The possibility of recouping a draft pick is part of the reason the 49ers felt compelled to make the trade in the first place. In my opinion, they would have preferred Mohamed Sanu, who was under contract through the 2020 season. But the Patriots offered the Atlanta Falcons a second-round draft pick, and the 49ers did not have a second-round pick after dealing it to Kansas City for Dee Ford.

Instead, the 49ers acquired Sanders and a fifth-round pick from Denver in return for third- and fourth-round draft picks. The 49ers do not figure to be active with veteran acquisitions on the free-agent market this offseason, so it is likely the 49ers have more losses than gains. If Sanders is a loss, the 49ers would stand a good chance of picking up a compensatory pick for the 2021 draft.

Get stronger. Work. Work. Work.

Pettis had a good offseason program a year ago, but he was not the same player when he came back for training camp. Other receivers on the team came back stronger at the opening of camp. Pettis did not. That is why Pettis struggled and fell out of favor to the point he rarely played in the second half of the season.

Pettis needs to take it up another few notches to get stronger and avoid the nagging injuries that also set him back last season. Pettis has more ability than almost anyone on the team to run some of Shanahan’s favorite routes. He will have an opportunity to prove himself in the offseason and training camp this year.

If Jalen Hurd and Pettis are both healthy, I think the answer is Hurd. The reason is because of his size and his unique skill set.

I envision Hurd being a big part of the 49ers’ two-minute offense because of his versatility. The 49ers can line him up anywhere in the formation, including running back. That puts the onus on the defense to figure out how they want to treat him. Is he a runner, wide receiver or tight end? Then, based on the defensive personnel, the 49ers can exploit those weaknesses.

[RELATED: Juice sick of Jimmy G, Shanahan criticism after Super Bowl]

The draft takes place more than a month after free agency. So the answer to this question could change, based on what the 49ers’ roster looks like at the time of the draft. But, right now, if the 49ers hold onto the No. 31 overall pick, the team can choose among the best available wide receiver, cornerback or defensive lineman.

There are two ways to look at this. But if there’s a team willing to move up to No. 31 overall, then that is the default move. It would make a lot of sense to sit out the first round of the draft to come away with multiple picks on Day 2.

But if there is someone at No. 31 with whom the organization has fallen in love, then they should take that player. The advantage of holding onto the first-round draft pick is that the 49ers would control the contract rights to the player for five years, instead of four.

49ers' Kyle Juszczyk sick of Jimmy Garoppolo, Kyle Shanahan criticism

49ers' Kyle Juszczyk sick of Jimmy Garoppolo, Kyle Shanahan criticism

Losing the Super Bowl was tough on the 49ers, to say the least. It was especially tough for the team's fullback, Kyle Juszczyk, who hated hearing the criticism of Jimmy Garoppolo and Kyle Shanahan, his quarterback and coach.

"Those are two guys that have absolutely nothing to prove to the rest of the guys in the locker room," Juice said Friday on NFL Network's "Good Morning Football." "You look at Jimmy, for people that are stats guys, 4,000 yards passing, better than a two-to-one, touchdown-interception ratio, 70 percent completion."

He added with that alone, you're looking at a "phenomenal quarterback."

"For whatever reason, Jimmy just gets this extra criticism, this extra heat, but I think at one point in the game he was like 19-for-22," Jusczyk said. 

"That's football, though -- you just change one or two plays in the game, and the whole dialogue changes, the whole narrative."

Juice mentioned the moment that could have put Jimmy G in the same category as Tom Brady as a Super Bowl MVP. The moment that could have led to the 49ers popping champagne in San Francisco amongst the faithful.

That could have been a game-changer.

The play in question caused wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to storm out of the media room following the Super Bowl LIV loss to the Chiefs. Garoppolo's overthrow in the fourth quarter changed everything.

[RELATED: What Juice regrets most from 49ers' Super Bowl collapse]

And they know it. Jimmy knows it. Sanders knows it. Shanahan knows it. 

"It's a shame that one or two plays can really change everyone's outlook on someone," Juszczyk said.