Unrestricted free agent guard Laken Tomlinson brings many great qualities with him to the Jets' offensive line — excellence, durability, intelligence and community-mindedness. All will come into play as he immerses himself into the Jets culture on and off the field in the coming years. Here are four glimpses into the approaches Tomlinson has taken into football and life.
Paging Dr. Tomlinson
Tomlinson had quite the division of labor in the summer of 2014 when he spent his free moments away from the Duke football team observing Dr. Carlos Bagley's work with surgical patients at Duke University Hospital. His longterm goal has been to become a neurosurgeon after he leaves the NFL trenches.
"Laken has everything in the right place," Dr. Bagley has said. "It's going to be awesome to watch his career, not only professionally on the football side but also professionally on the medical side, to watch that all play out. I think he's going to be able to do great things on both sides."
Tomlinson said his aspirations to enter the medical field had their roots in family heartbreak. His grandfather died in Jamaica from internal bleeding due to stomach ulcers.
"I thought about all the things that would have happened had he been in the States versus Jamaica," he said. "That's when I decided I wanted to be a doctor. I wanted to prevent things like that from happening. If my grandpa lived here, he'd likely be alive to see me go to college. I'm sorry to say he is not and I miss him, I miss him a lot."
Other Community Endeavors
Tomlinson has always been family- and community-minded. After his second season at Duke, he and nine Blue Devils teammates went on a mission to Langano, Ethiopia, for a well-water-digging project in May 2012.
With the 49ers, he had a number of charitable endeavors. He walked the catwalk with cancer "warriors" modeling Levi's apparel at the Crucial Catch Fashion Show in 2019. He was a fixture serving Thanksgiving dinners to people in need in the San Jose area. And for the My Cause, My Cleats campaign, he has represented the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
"I play for all those struggling with mental health," Laken has stated.
See the best images of the former 49er and Jets free agency addition.
Tomlinson's football durability mentioned above is impressive. After being inactive for his first game with San Francisco in 2017, still learning the 49ers' zone-blocking scheme after his August trade, he started on streaks that he brings with him to the Jets of 85 consecutive games and starts (including playoffs). Diving deeper, Laken has played in 5,667 of the Niners' last 5,700 offensive plays, missing snaps in only three games.
If we extend that stretch of sturdiness further back, he played in all 33 games with the Lions in 2015-16 (including a playoff game), giving him a pro stretch of 119 appearances in his teams' 120 games over the past seven seasons.
And if we extend that streak even further back, to his four seasons at Duke, where he started all 52 of the Blue Devils' games in that span, Tomlinson's teams played 172 games from 2011-21 and LT played in 171 of them, with 163 starts.
(Extended) Family Man
The only decline in Tomlinson's ever-upward career trajectory came in his second season with Detroit. The Lions' first-round draft choice in 2015 and a 14-game starter as a rookie, he lost his starting LG job for a seven-game midseason span, had slipped on the depth chart, and was traded to San Francisco for a fifth-rounder in August 2017.
Then Laken's career took off.
What happened? Perhaps it had something to do with playing again under someone who believed in him. Martin Mayhew drafted Tomlinson as Detroit's GM in 2015. After a stop with the Giants in '16, Mayhew became senior personnel executive with San Fran in 2017 and was instrumental in executing that trade to bring Tomlinson west, young man. Laken went on to win the Niners' Bobb McKittrick Award in '18, and in January he played in his first Pro Bowl.
Could a similar liftoff, or at least a continuation of excellence, happen for Laken now as a Jet? Why not? Among his coaches during his Niners tenure was Jets OL coach John Benton, Jets OC Mike LaFleur ... and of course Robert Saleh, the 49ers' defensive coordinator from 2017-20 before taking over as the Jets head coach last year. Laken's with family.