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Jets OL Laken Tomlinson: 'The Best Thing for Me and My Family'

Relationship With Robert Saleh, Mike LaFleur and John Benton a Key to Free Agent Move


With each passing day, with each signing in free agency it is becoming crystal clear that Jets HC Robert Saleh and his staff are having a magnetic effect in attracting smart, physical, quality players and solid citizens to One Jets Drive.

From OL Laken Tomlinson to S Jordan Whitehead to CB D.J. Reed and TE C.J. Uzomah and others, the common thread during their conversations with reporters last week was the man who often wears his emotion on his sleeve on the sideline during games -- Saleh. Particularly, Tomlinson and Reed, who were in San Francisco when Saleh also worked for the 49ers, see the no-nonsense man from Dearborn, MI, as a leader and a players' coach.

"He's a great coach, when I was on the Niners and he was the defensive coordinator, and he has an aura that he's one of those guys that everyone in the building just respects," Reed said. "Just because he's real. You know he's not b.s. what he's talking about. Like he really lives that day in and day out. He really grinds with players. And I think that's why he's a player's coach."

All of the Jets' new players are expected to play key roles for the Green & White in the 2022 NFL season, and Tomlinson -- who could possibly move from left guard to the right side -- is a marquee acquisition. He made the Pro Bowl last season with the 49ers and they wanted him back, but overtures from GM Joe Douglas, Saleh, offensive line coach John Benton and OC Mike LaFleur were hard to ignore.

"The process was crazy, there were a couple of teams that really, really wanted me," said Tomlinson, who signed a three-year pact with the Green & White. "There was a lot of love in San Francisco trying to get me back, but this ended up being the best thing for me and my family.

"I would be lying if I said it [knowing the Jets coaching staff] didn't. Having that familiarity in the building helped a lot and made it easier for me to make the decision. And also John Benton as well after four years over there in San Francisco."

Tomlinson, 30, a four-year starter at Duke, was taken by Detroit in the first round (No. 28 overall) in the 2015 NFL Draft. Tomlinson (6-3, 315) graduated from Duke with degrees in evolutionary anthropology and psychology. He was traded to the 49ers for a fifth-round pick in August 2017.

He was a fixture on the 49ers' offensive line. After missing his first game with San Francisco, Tomlinson played the remaining 15 games in 2017, then all 16 regular-season contests in 2018, 2019 and 2020. He played in all 17 games this past season, when the NFL expanded the regular-season schedule with an additional game.

"I think he adds so much more depth and gives the Jets added flexibility," former Jets linebacker Bart Scott said on SNY. "I like that they've beefed up with talent. It reminds me of when we had Alan Faneca and Brandon Moore, two road graters who could move people, and you'll have the athletes on the outside. I love the potential on the right side."

While, at present, it's easy to speculate about who will play which position on the O-line in Week 1 of the 2022 NFL season, Tomlinson could move to the right side and could play next to either George Fant or Mekhi Becton.

After he met with the media and was asked about moving to the right side, Tomlinson said: "I'm going to a meeting with John Benton and we're going to talk about all that stuff."

See the best images of the former 49er and Jets free agency addition.

By every metric, the Jets signed one of the most sought-after guards available in free agency, a guy who has not missed a snap in the past three seasons and has played in the same wide-zone scheme the Jets now use, and he did it under LaFleur. Tomlinson said that he has yet to meet some of his O-line teammates, but took part in "an awesome group chat."

Wherever he ends up on the offensive line, Tomlinson believes he's landed in the right place.

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