Trent Williams' tumultuous relationship with Washington finally came to an end when he was traded to the 49ers during the 2020 NFL Draft and he was able to turn over a new leaf. He then put together an eighth Pro Bowl season that not only proved to himself that he still has what it takes to be a franchise left tackle, but also cleared his name across the league in the process.
“When you look at my past, I was a team captain for that team every year but my rookie year,” Williams said. “For my character to be questioned, I was taken aback. It had a lot to do with, I guess, the pissing contest back and forth.
“The more the truth came out, the more they had to find ways to devalue that and make it more so me. I get that. Even as far as characterizing my absence as a holdout when I couldn’t even play at that point. I wasn’t holding out. I was just training to get ready.”
Williams' contract is structured in a way that prevents the 49ers from using the franchise tag to keep him. While his preference is to stay with the 49ers, the free agent is going to do something Pro Bowl/All-Pro left tackles rarely get to do: Test the open market.
“I am curious to see what my value is just going through that process,” Williams said. “I felt like I was devalued in a lot of ways. I always put a good product on the field, but I think my character was questioned a lot.
“I was being told that there were no suitors, that there were no people looking to trade for me so I thought my value took a huge hit and I think it is curiosity where I want to see where that true value is now that everyone can shoot their shot without having to go through anybody.”
The best left tackles rarely hit the open market because teams understand how rare and valuable they are. Joe Staley spending his entire 13-year career with the 49ers is a prime example. The top tackles in the league occasionally get traded, but they're almost never allowed to walk while in their primes.
Tackles named to the last two NFL All-Decade teams:
- Tyron Smith spent his entire 10-year career with the Dallas Cowboys
- Joe Staley spent his entire 13-year career with the 49ers
- Joe Thomas spent his entire 11-year career with the Cleveland Browns
- Walter Jones spent his entire 12-year career with Seattle Seahawks
- Jonathan Ogden spent his entire 12-year career with Baltimore Ravens
- After five years with the Buffalo Bills, Jason Peters was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles for a first-round draft pick (28th overall)
- After seven years with the New Orleans Saints, Willie Roaf was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs for a third-round pick
- After spending the first 12 years of his career with the St. Louis Rams, Orlando Pace signed with the Chicago Bears for his final season
Williams might be poised to break the bank, but considering the likelihood of a lower salary cap and how attractive of a destination the 49ers are to the left tackle, a compromise might be in order.
Williams has been open about not wanting to be part of a rebuild at this stage in his career. He also understands that a playoff-caliber roster typically has less available money to spread around.
“I think it will be a blend of both,” Williams said. “If I’m not here, I’m obviously going to want to maximize my value, but I do understand that anytime you have a roster that has a lot of good players, you’re not going to have a wealth of salary cap space, so I understand that as well.”
Williams knows there are ways to work around the rigidity of the salary cap, and while he is eager to see what is out there, his ultimate preference is to remain with San Francisco. If there’s anyone who can make the numbers work, it’s President of 49ers Enterprises and Executive Vice President of Football Operations, Paraag Marathe.