There is a reason very few good offensive linemen become free agents.
When teams find a keeper, they keep him.
Three teams already have taken measures to lock up scheduled free-agent offensive linemen with the franchise tag. And the 49ers certainly would have done the same with Trent Williams, except he had it written into his contract he could not be tagged.
Williams stated in January he wanted to return to the 49ers. But he also expressed intrigue about learning his value on the open market -- a rarity for a top-flight offensive tackle.
"San Francisco would be the leading candidate regardless," Williams said. "So even if it does make it to free agency, it won't be because I'm trying to go somewhere else. It may be simply because I want to see my value.
“It's been 11 years in this league, and I have yet to see a franchise left tackle go to the open market. I think it would be interesting to kind of see what (my) value holds."
Williams was expected to be an attractive free agent because there was not expected to be many comparable players available at his position.
Now, there are even fewer.
The Carolina Panthers used their franchise tag on offensive tackle Taylor Moton. The Jacksonville Jaguars are expected to lock up tackle Cam Robinson, the NFL Network reported on Tuesday morning.
Also, Washington placed the tag on guard Brandon Scherff, reports JP Finlay of NBC Sports Washington.
The one-year tag for offensive linemen is expected to be approximately $14 million. Because Scherff is being tagged for a second consecutive year, his price tag will be around $18 million.
Williams likely has his sights set on a multi-year contract in the neighborhood of $20 million a season.
Williams clearly is the top offensive lineman available in free agency. Pittsburgh left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, 32, is likely the No. 2 tackle on the market after completing a four-year $24 million deal he signed in 2017.
The 49ers acquired Williams in a draft-day trade from Washington to replace retiring tackle Joe Staley. After sitting out the 2019 season, Williams returned to action with the 49ers and arguably was the best offensive tackle in the game.
His blend of size, strength, agility and technique make Williams a perfect fit for the demands of Kyle Shanahan’s offense as a pass protector and run blocker.
He was chosen to the Pro Bowl for an eighth time in his 10 NFL seasons. He turns 33 in July.