As the NFL’s ‘legal tampering’ window – and with it the unofficial start of free agency – nears, Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams stands as arguably the top prize on the market following the news of Dak Prescott signing a long-term deal to stay with the Dallas Cowboys.
Williams will surely be coveted by teams across the NFL looking to improve their protection but, for the San Francisco 49ers – who agreed not to franchise Williams when they acquired him from the Washington Football Team last year – a potential failure to retain his services would spark a domino effect and drastically alter their offseason plans.
The noises regarding Williams staying with San Francisco have been positive. Appearing as a guest on the Cris Collinsworth Podcast featuring Richard Sherman, Williams said Sherman was “barking up the right tree” when he predicted the eight-time Pro Bowler would re-sign with the Niners.
Further fueling hopes of Williams staying put was NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport, who posted on Twitter that both sides want a deal to happen, though it will be expensive.
David Bakhtiari of the Green Bay Packers is the highest-paid left tackle in football by average annual value, his deal worth $23 million a year according to Over The Cap.
After a season in which he returned from a year on the shelf and finished the campaign as Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded tackle, the 49ers will need to be prepared to pay Williams at a similar rate.
With the salary cap down to $182.5 million, leaving the 49ers just shy of $25 million under per OTC, San Francisco will need to perform a difficult financial balancing act to get such a contract on the books.
But it behoves the Niners to do so. All-Pro caliber left tackles are extremely difficult to find and, for all the talk surrounding Jimmy Garoppolo and whether he will still be the quarterback next season, it will make little difference who is under center if they do not have a tackle capable of consistently locking down his blindside.
Williams signing elsewhere would leave the 49ers in scramble mode to find a replacement, likely forcing them to use the 12th overall selection in the draft on a successor.
There may well be compelling options on the board at that point – Northwestern’s
A great deal will be revealed about the 49ers’ approach to the offseason through their actions in free agency. Yet, given general manager John Lynch (per Niners Nation) has previously described re-signing Williams as a priority, it is fair to assume their plans are based heavily around him being inked to a new contract.
San Francisco should have a contingency if talks reach an impasse. However, that Plan B will be an inferior course of action to keeping Williams in the building and force the 49ers to pass up on top prospects in other areas. In that sense, Williams is the 49ers’ offseason Jenga piece, and it is worth paying the steep price to keep him intact on the offensive line.