Washington has reportedly granted franchise left tackle Trent Williams permission to seek a trade, meaning one of the league’s premier offensive linemen could be on the move after sitting out the entire 2019 season following a dispute with the team.
The seven-time Pro Bowler is in the last year of his contract, which will pay him $12.5 million. He has been elite in pass protection throughout his career, and when he last played in 2018, he allowed just one sack and nine quarterback hits. He’s 31 years old and has dealt with a variety of injuries in the 10 years since he entered the NFL, but he’d still represent a dramatic upgrade for whichever team he plays for next.
Unfortunately for Washington, that would also include his current team, which he is unlikely to rejoin. While its offensive line finished in the top half of Pro Football Focus’s rankings for 2019, Dwayne Haskins can use all the protection he can get; the rookie was sacked on 12.5 percent of his dropbacks in nine games. However, Williams needs a clean break from Washington, who he says misled him about a cancerous growth on his head. Since he last played, the team has remade its front office and brought in new head coach Ron Rivera, who seems like a good bet to remake the culture and reportedly had a positive conversation with Williams last month. It seems now that whatever came out of those talks wasn’t enough to mend the fence.
The price for Williams should be hefty. Jack Conklin and 38-year-old Jason Peters headline the free-agent tackle class, and there are at least a half-dozen teams that could use an upgrade at the position. Additionally, the Texans sent the Dolphins two first-rounders and other pieces for left tackle Laremy Tunsil and receiver Kenny Stills last preseason. Houston slightly overpaid—and Tunsil is younger and had more time left on his contract than the Washington tackle does—but Williams will still likely command a high draft pick and possibly other assets. So what teams could make a move? Let’s briefly run through some options.
New York Jets
According to Pro Football Focus, the Jets allowed pressure in 2.5 seconds or less on 27.5 percent of their dropbacks in 2019, the second-worst rate in the league. They also enter free agency with holes on the line: Kelvin Beachum, who finished 27th in pass protection among tackles who played at least 600 snaps in 2019, is set to hit the market, as is starting center Ryan Kalil. The Jets are projected to have $56 million in cap space to work with and need to protect third-year quarterback Sam Darnold, who was sacked 33 times last season, including eight times in a Week 8 loss to Jacksonville. Williams would represent an immediate upgrade.
The Dolphins already boasted one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL before trading Tunsil last September. In 2019, they had perhaps the worst unit: According to PFF, they allowed pressure in 2.5 seconds or less on 33 percent of their dropbacks, and their average time to pressure allowed was the quickest in the league by more than a tenth of a second. The Dolphins enter free agency with the second-most projected cap space (more than $83 million), and if they plan to draft a quarterback at no. 5 in April, they’ll want to afford him the best protection possible. They also have perhaps the best available collection of assets to trade, with extra first-rounders from the Tunsil and Minkah Fitzpatrick trades and an extra second-rounder from a trade with New Orleans.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers have had one of the worst offensive lines in football for a few years, and trading Russell Okung on Wednesday didn’t help matters. With Okung dealing with injuries last year, Sam Tevi and backup Trent Scott allowed the second-most quarterback pressures of any tackle duo in the league, according to PFF. Los Angeles is in the market for a new quarterback after agreeing to part ways with Philip Rivers this offseason. The team is reportedly in the running for Tom Brady, but if it hopes to land him or any other top-tier signal-caller, they’ll need to fix the situation up front.
The Browns already inquired about Williams last October, and their situation may have gotten worse since then. Starting tackle Greg Robinson is set to hit free agency, and he was arrested for alleged possession of 157 pounds of marijuana last month. Cleveland had one of the league’s best offensive lines in 2018, but after not renewing line coach Bob Wylie’s contract and trading guard Kevin Zeitler before the 2019 season, the pass protection suffered. Baker Mayfield was sacked 40 times as he regressed in his sophomore season.
New York Giants
Nate Solder has been a disaster since the Giants made him the highest-paid offensive lineman in history heading into the 2018 season. According to PFF, Solder’s 57 pressures allowed in 2019 were seven more than any other player, and he and right tackle Mike Remmers allowed more pressures than any other duo. The Giants need to make an upgrade to protect Daniel Jones, but Solder carries a $13 million dead cap hit if he’s cut. New York may be stuck with him.
Williams’s issues with Washington seemed to be directed at the medical staff and former general manager Bruce Allen, not Jay Gruden, who coached the team until he was fired in October. If that’s the case, Jacksonville could be a fit: Gruden was named the Jags’ offensive coordinator this offseason. The team is clearly in transition, but it needs help on the line. Tackle Cam Robinson, who was taken in the second round of the 2017 draft, was dreadful last year, allowing pressure on 8.2 percent of his snaps, according to PFF. There has been talk of moving him to guard, which would help the interior, but leave a hole on Gardner Minshew II’s blind side. The Jaguars have a lot of decisions to make on key free agents and enter free agency with $31.2 million in available cap space, but if they can find a trade partner for Nick Foles, that should free up enough room to absorb Williams. Beyond protection, Williams would solve another problem for Jacksonville: The front office was so terrible under Tom Coughlin that NFLPA has recommended free agents avoid signing there. The Jags will likely be able to add marquee talent only through trades, and if Williams, a locker room leader in Washington, is amenable to a reunion with Gruden, he could help improve the team culture.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams had one of the best lines in the NFL during their Super Bowl run two seasons ago. Last year, they fared far worse in pass protection, as they allowed a pressure rate 4 percentage points higher than they did in 2018. That was a problem for Jared Goff, who looks like a different quarterback under pressure; one year after posting a 63.6 QBR rating, he saw that figure drop to 48.5, below Philip Rivers and barely above Josh Allen. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth wasn’t the problem—he finished seventh in PFF’s pass-protection grades among tackles—but he’ll turn 39 in December. He’s currently a free agent, and while head coach Sean McVay is optimistic he’ll be back for 2020, he won’t be part of the long-term picture in Los Angeles. There are just a few small problems with adding Williams: The Rams could soon find themselves hamstrung by the Todd Gurley, Jared Goff, and Aaron Donald contracts, and they also lack much draft capital after shipping two first-rounders to Jacksonville for cornerback Jalen Ramsey, whom they’ll presumably try to sign to an extension at some point soon.