Buffalo, N.Y. — The Detroit Lions found a taker for former first-round pick Laken Tomlinson, shipping the guard to the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday for a fifth-round draft pick in 2019, a team source confirmed.
The Lions selected Tomlinson out of Duke with the No. 28 pick in 2015, following a draft-day trade with the Denver Broncos. The teams swapped first-round choices, with Broncos getting the Lions’ No. 23 selection in exchange for the No. 28 pick, a fifth-rounder that year and the next, plus veteran guard Manny Ramirez. The Broncos took Missouri defensive end Shane Ray at No. 23.
Tomlinson started 14 games as a rookie, initially working as an injury replacement before officially taking over Ramirez’s spot in the starting five the sixth week of season.
Tomlinson entered his sophomore year as Detroit’s starting left guard, but after several weeks of inconsistent play, he lost the job to rookie Graham Glasgow. Tomlinson found his way back into the lineup the final four games of the year, as well as the team’s playoff game in Seattle, after center Travis Swanson’s concussion required Glasgow to slide over.
A right guard in college, Tomlinson appeared more at home at the position when he had to fill in at the spot. With Larry Warford, the former starter, signing with the New Orleans Saints this offseason, Tomlinson looked like he would have an opportunity to win the job. But that window slammed shut when the Lions signed veteran T.J. Lang to a three-year, $28.5 million deal in free agency.
Throughout the offseason, the Lions’ brass repeatedly said there would be an open competition at left guard between Glasgow, Tomlinson and Joe Dahl, but Glasgow has taken nearly all the first-team reps and never appeared in jeopardy of losing the job.
Despite being relegated to a backup role, the Lions always praised the way Tomlinson responded to the adversity. Earlier this week, offensive line coach Ron Prince praised the young lineman’s dedication to his craft.
“Laken does everything he can to study, to train, to come out to practice and practice physically, to improve in his technique,” Prince told the Detroit News. “He’s got a great attitude. He’s determined. He’s not complacent or satisfied with where he is, always striving to get better.”
Asked if Tomlinson still had a bright NFL future, Prince didn’t hesitate.
“Absolutely, he has physical skills,” Prince said. “It’s just a function of competition. We grade every practice, grade every rep, grade the games, that’s where he falls in the grading.
“I would never want it to appear that he’s not a good football player,” Prince said. “He is a good football player. We just have some guys competing for those spots and we’ll see how it all fleshes out.”
The trade to San Francisco provided the answer. Tomlinson’s two-plus year stint in Detroit is over. The trade reconnects him with Martin Mayhew, the former Lions general manager currently serving as a senior personnel executive in San Francisco.
Tomlinson becomes the second first-round pick from his draft class to be traded this week. On Wednesday, the Cleveland Browns shipped the No. 19 pick from the 2015 class, Cam Erving, to the Kansas City Chiefs, also in exchange for a future fifth-round choice.
Tomlinson’s departure creates the roster space to carry an additional interior lineman, likely either guard Brandon Thomas or center Leo Koloamatangi.
A former third-round pick in 2014, the Lions picked up Thomas in a trade with the 49ers almost a year ago to the day of shipping out Tomlinson. Thomas spent the 2016 season on the Lions’ practice squad.
By making the deal, the Lions clear Tomlinson’s $1.21 million guaranteed salary off the books in 2017, but remain on the hook for $1.12 million cap hits this year and next for the prorated portions of his signing bonus.