The San Francisco 49ers inked offensive guard Laken Tomlinson to a three-year extension, which casts a major shadow on fellow guard Joshua Garnett's projected role with the team in 2018.


Offensive guard was a bit of a question mark for the San Francisco 49ers this offseason. After changing out the center and right tackle spots -- signing Weston Richburg and drafting Mike McGlinchey, respectively -- the Niners were going to employ something of a three-way competition for two guard spots. Those names, Laken Tomlinson, Jonathan Cooper and Joshua Garnett, were seen as the main candidates for starting jobs.

San Francisco's intentions were made a bit clearer last Friday, as the team inked Tomlinson to a three-year extension worth up to $18 million.

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And with Cooper poised to earn up to $4.86 million this season, Garnett could easily be the odd man out for the starting lineup.

Garnett, a late first-round pick by the 49ers in the 2016 NFL Draft, came with plenty of questions about his scheme fit. Having operated primarily in a power-run scheme at Stanford, Garnett could easily be considered another one of those players selected by former general manager Trent Baalke who didn't fit the offense. During Garnett's rookie year, the Niners ran an inside-zone blocking scheme under then-head coach Chip Kelly. Head coach Kyle Shanahan operates an outside zone.

Zone-style blocking schemes require excellent mobility and the ability to hold down blocks in space. This is one of the reasons why Shanahan and Co. asked Garnett to slim down his body after missing all of last year with a knee injury. Garnett did accomplish this, but Tomlinson's extension creates more doubt.

Meanwhile, Tomlinson's 2017 play initially would have made his contract extension questionable. He started off the season on a rough note. But by year's end, he was one of the better guards in the NFL. Namely after San Francisco made the switch to quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.


Back in 2016, Garnett's Pro Football Focus pass-blocking efficiency stood at 93.2 -- 61st and dead last out of all qualifying guards that year.

Missing 2017 surely hurt Garnett's development, and one can only guess where he'd be right now had his knee injury not been a factor. But the fact the Niners made the move to ink Tomlinson to an extension doesn't exactly indicate confidence in Garnett.

Meanwhile, Cooper hasn't been participating in offseason activities, as he recovers from MCL surgery. Any complications or setbacks there could bode well for Garnett, but that's not exactly the long-term prognosis.

At any rate, Garnett is now under the microscope heading into training camp. The competition should do him some good, but it's not hard to see him on the outside, looking in.

Peter Panacy has been writing about the 49ers since 2011 for outlets like Bleacher Report, Niner Noise, 49ers Webzone, and is occasionally heard as a guest on San Francisco's 95.7 FM The Game. Feel free to follow him, or direct any inquiries to @PeterPanacy on Twitter.