Sheldon Day

Why 49ers are unlikely to cut Solomon Thomas before 2020 NFL season

Why 49ers are unlikely to cut Solomon Thomas before 2020 NFL season

Solomon Thomas has been a major disappointment for the 49ers. That cannot be denied.

Typically, when a defensive lineman is selected with the No. 3 overall pick in the NFL draft, he is expected to produce more than six sacks over his first three seasons. That's precisely how many Thomas has after the first three seasons of his NFL career.

He has not been the impact player the 49ers expected him to be, which is part of the reason why they declined his fifth-year option earlier this month. Had they picked it up, Thomas would have been owed $12.321 million for the 2021 season. That was never going to happen.

As a result of not having his fifth-year option picked up, Thomas essentially is a pending free agent. Consequently, Bleacher Report's Brent Sobleski included him within his early predictions for the most surprising veteran cuts of the 2020 offseason, in which he mentions that cutting Thomas would open up an additional $4.4 million in cap space for San Francisco.

That's not chump change, but it seems highly unlikely the 49ers would part ways with Thomas before the 2020 season. He might be a disappointment thus far, but they need him.

With DeForest Buckner and Sheldon Day now playing for the Indianapolis Colts, the 49ers have a big hole to fill in the middle of their defensive line. First-round pick Javon Kinlaw and veteran D.J. Jones are expected to get the majority of reps on the interior line, but they can't do it alone. San Francisco's depth along the D-line was a major reason for the team's success last season.

As The Athletic's David Lombardi pointed out, Thomas has played more snaps on the interior with each successive season of his career -- where he has been more effective -- culminating with 51 percent of his snaps being taken at tackle in 2019. Given the departures of Buckner and Day, it stands to reason that trend will continue in 2020, assuming Thomas is still around.

And, as NBC Sports' Matt Maiocco suggested, just because the 49ers declined Thomas' fifth-year option doesn't necessarily mean they don't want to keep him around long-term. Two years ago, guard Laken Tomlinson was in a very similar situation. His fifth-year option -- which would have paid him $9.625 million -- was declined. Two months later, he signed a four-year, $18 million contract extension.

[RELATED: 49ers' Jones plans to raise game with now-healthy ankle]

In the time since, Tomlinson has proved himself worth that offer. We'll see if Thomas gets the chance to do the same.

Even if he doesn't, you can count on him playing for the 49ers in 2020.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

D.J. Jones expects Javon Kinlaw, veterans to step up on 49ers' D-line

D.J. Jones expects Javon Kinlaw, veterans to step up on 49ers' D-line

Nose tackle D.J. Jones had to take a moment to collect himself when reminded that two of his teammates along the 49ers’ defensive line from last season are now with the Indianapolis Colts.

“I just shed a tear when you said that,” Jones said on a video call Thursday with Bay Area reporters.

Jones certainly did not minimize the losses of DeForest Buckner and Sheldon Day. But he spoke with confidence about the returning players who will be asked to pick up the slack, along with a talented newcomer who is expected to step into a starting role.

“Those are two guys that were leaders in our room,” Jones said. “Sheldon was the smartest guy that I had the pleasure to play with on and off the field. Buck was just an all-around leader, as far as showing by example. He was always on time. Buck was the guy. If you wanted to know how to do something right, watch Buck.”

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

The 49ers sent Buckner to the Colts in a trade this offseason for a first-round draft pick, while Day signed with the Colts as a free agent.

“Just losing those two guys was tough, but we have enough leaders in the room, like Arik (Armstead), even a young (Nick) Bosa, Dee Ford -- guys that can step up and fill that role,” Jones said.

The big acquisition along the 49ers’ front four this offseason was South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, whom the club selected with the No. 14 overall draft pick.

“I’m just excited to play with a South Carolina guy, to be honest,” said Jones, who was born and went to high school in Piedmont, South Carolina.

Jones, who played at Ole Miss, and Kinlaw both went to the junior-college route before earning scholarships in the SEC.

“He’s an animal,” Jones said of Kinlaw. “I think he’ll add versatility to the D-line. I don’t feel like anybody is just one dimensional on our D-line, and he’s adding on to that puzzle. Eventually, it’s all going to show, and we’ll finish next time.”

[RELATED: 49ers' Dre Greenlaw thinks Javon Kinlaw could follow Nick Bosa as top rookie]

Kinlaw is expected to play three-technique and line up next to Jones on base downs. Jones said he is completely recovered from a high-ankle sprain that brought an early end to his season.

He and Kinlaw (6-foot-5, 319 pounds) figure to provide the 49ers with stout pair of interior linemen against the run. Both could factor into the equation as pass-rushers, too.

“Excuse my language, but he’s a grown-a-- man,” Jones said. “He’s bulky. He’s strong as all-get-out, which you can see on film.

“He’s driving linemen to the quarterback, which I love to see, which I know (49ers defensive line coach) Kris Kocurek loves to see. He looks like he has heavy hands. That’s one aspect to our D-line, we all have heavy hands, that he’ll add to the group.”

Colts' DeForest Buckner, Sheldon Day driven by 49ers' Super Bowl loss

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USATSI

Colts' DeForest Buckner, Sheldon Day driven by 49ers' Super Bowl loss

Sheldon Day and DeForest Buckner will be teammates on a new team next season, driven by the last loss with their old one.

The defensive linemen joined the Indianapolis Colts this offseason via free agency and trade, respectively, after playing together for the 49ers since midway through the 2017 season. Day and Buckner's final games with San Francisco were in the 49ers' 31-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV, and Day said the pair has additional motivation after not lifting the Vince Lombardi Trophy last season.

"It was right there in our hands, and all we had to do was squeeze it and grab it (in Super Bowl LIV), and we let up," Day told reporters on his introductory conference call last week (via Colts.com). "So ultimately we have a chip on our shoulders and we know how to get there, and now we know what to do to overcome that shortcoming that we had."

Buckner sacked eventual Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes 1.5 times in the game, accounting for three of the 49ers' nine QB hits. Day, meanwhile, played a little over half of San Francisco's 76 defensive snaps and picked up a tackle.

[RELATED: 49ers' Jones switches agencies entering final year of deal]

The Indianapolis native played in a career-high 16 games with the 49ers during the 2019 regular season, and Day started each of San Francisco's playoff games. Day credited his growth to playing with Buckner, and he's going to continue picking his brain while they're still teammates.

"DeForest (has) made me detail my game," Day said. "So we would be working on pass-rush moves, bouncing ideas off of each other, just trying to make sure that our game grew together, and we're always giving each other tips. If I see something on film [I'm reaching] out to him, and vice versa. So, man, what a special guy he is."

All the while, the 49ers' Super Bowl LIV won't be far from either player's mind.