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Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Should the 49ers reunite with Laken Tomlinson?

Feb 27, 2024 at 9:12 AM--

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The San Francisco 49ers didn't allow guard Laken Tomlinson to walk in free agency in 2022 because they no longer valued him. They simply couldn't afford to retain him. The offensive lineman earned a Pro Bowl selection in his final season in the Bay Area and proceeded to sign a three-year deal averaging $13.3 million with the New York Jets, a sum much higher than what San Francisco was willing to offer.

Tomlinson had one year remaining on that contract. However, in an effort to create salary cap room, the Jets decided to part ways with their one-time prized free-agent acquisition, saving around $8.1 million in the process.

As noted by ESPN's Jeremy Fowler, Tomlinson rarely leaves the starting lineup. He started every game in his two seasons with the Jets and has not missed a game since the 2017 season—only sitting out the regular season opener due to his recent trade to the 49ers.

However, Tomlinson's performance with the Jets declined. According to Pro Football Focus, he played all 1,099 snaps at left guard this past season. The offensive lineman earned career-low overall (55.0) and pass-blocking (60.6) grades from the analytics site. His 51 pressures allowed this past season were a career-high, ranking as the eighth-most among all offensive linemen and the second-most among guards. His seven sacks allowed were also a career-high.

In contrast, Tomlinson never allowed more than 39 pressures in a single season while with San Francisco. Moreover, only one 49ers player—right guard Colton McKivitz—allowed more pressures (59) and more sacks (9) this past season.

Tomlinson also struggled in run blocking during his two seasons with the Jets, never surpassing a 50.0 Pro Football Focus season grade with the team. Perhaps it was the system he played within, and maybe the offensive lineman would benefit from a fresh start with his former club. However, the question then arises about fit.

Since Tomlinson's departure, Aaron Banks has been the 49ers' starting left guard. Tomlinson has played at left guard exclusively since the 2017 season, with all 65 of his career snaps at right guard coming in 2016 with the Detroit Lions. While Banks' Pro Football Focus grades have been underwhelming, the 49ers remain confident that their 26-year-old offensive lineman will continue to improve.

Adding Tomlinson would require Banks or Tomlinson to move to the right side if they hope to start, replacing the rotating lineup of Spencer Burford and Jon Feliciano. However, Feliciano performed better than expected this past season, allowing only one sack in his 350 pass-blocking snaps while earning career-high overall (79.8) and run-blocking (85.6) grades from Pro Football Focus. But he is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent and could garner the attention of some other teams.

If Tomlinson is unwilling to consider a move to the right side and do so at the right price, he's unlikely to be an option for the 49ers. Moreover, if another team is willing to overpay for his services, which is often the case in free agency, it's unlikely the 49ers would engage in a bidding war for a player they might struggle to fit into their lineup. The silver lining for Tomlinson is that he has a head start on free agency after being released.

San Francisco's offensive line needs an upgrade, particularly on the right side. However, the team may explore more affordable options in the draft.

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