Left guard Laken Tomlinson is Pro Football Network’s No. 26 free agent of this cycle — including No. 2 behind Brandon Scherff among guards and fifth among all offensive linemen. Tomlinson was a big part of the San Francisco 49ers’ success on offense and should have a robust market in free agency as he looks for a new contract.
Laken Tomlinson: Free Agency Overview
Tomlinson, 30, is proof that patience can pay off — particularly with naturally gifted athletes. Tomlinson was the Lions’ first-round pick out of Duke in 2015. However, he lasted just two seasons in Detroit before getting traded to San Francisco. Getting paired with Kyle Shanahan and Mike McDaniel was the best thing to happen to his career. And in 2021, he established himself as one of the league’s top interior linemen.
Recapping Tomlinson’s 2021 season
Tomlinson made his first Pro Bowl in 2021, qualifying as an alternate. He for the third time in four years was also the winner of the Niners’ Bobb McKittrick Award, which goes “to the 49ers offensive lineman who best represents the courage, intensity, and sacrifice displayed by the longtime offensive line coach, during his 21 years of service to the 49ers. The award was established by the 49ers in 1999, and is voted on by the offensive line.”
The respect of his peers was warranted. Tomlinson’s an absolute bear in run blocking. In addition, you can count the number of sacks he allowed in 2021 on one hand. That’s impressive, considering he was the only 49ers player on the field for all 1,091 offensive snaps. He averaged a holding penalty just once every 273 plays.
Tomlinson’s contract estimate and salary cap implications
Tomlinson will almost certainly get a sizable bump over the $4.7 million AAV he’s earned the last four years. While Spotrac doesn’t provide an estimated market value for him, it’s a fair guess that his new contract will land him in the top 10 of offensive guards. Ereck Flowers’ AAV is $10 million. That’s a reasonable range for a player of Tomlinson’s ability. But it might not fit in the Niners’ budget. As of late February, they had just $3 million in cap space.
Possible landing spots for Tomlinson
The Miami Dolphins have one of the league’s worst offensive lines, and former first-round pick Austin Jackson was almost as bad at left guard as he was left tackle. With McDaniel now the head coach and Miami leading the league in cap space, this pairing makes a ton of sense.
The Buffalo Bills, Los Angeles Chargers, Baltimore Ravens, and Carolina Panthers are also teams to watch.
What they’re saying about Tomlinson
“I think it’s been a real good improvement since he’s gotten here. Laken, I remember evaluating him hard coming out of college and I think everyone had a pretty good idea he was going to go in the first or second round because he was such a talented player. You can ask him about Detroit and the situation, but just some of the stuff that he was doing there he didn’t seem as good of a player as he is here. And I don’t know if it was a scheme fit or what or if he’s just got more confidence here.
“I remember we made that trade about six days or seven days before our Week 1 start and I think he was starting by Week 2. He’s played a lot of games for us. He’s been able to stay healthy and I think he’s gotten better each year too, so we’ve been very fortunate to have him.” — 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, September 2021
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