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The Trent Williams Situation Could Derail Washington’s Season

The star left tackle has reportedly demanded a trade because of the team’s handling of a recent medical procedure. Where does this leave Washington and rookie QB Dwayne Haskins?

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Washington had been too quiet this offseason—we should have known that the team would deliver headlines eventually. After drafting promising QB Dwayne Haskins and nabbing Pro Bowl safety Landon Collins in free agency, the Redskins looked to be having a solid spring—until Wednesday. Now, perennial Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams is reportedly demanding a trade, according to Jason La Canfora. Suddenly, the team’s one true star player wants out. How did Washington end up falling on its face once again? Here’s a quick FAQ to bring you up to speed:

What is Williams upset about?

Originally, it looked like Williams’s minicamp holdout—which began Tuesday—was over a straightforward contract dispute. The star tackle signed a five-year, $68 million deal (with $41.3 million guaranteed) before the 2015 season, which made Williams the highest-paid offensive tackle in football. But five tackles now outpace Williams in average annual value, and it’s not a surprise that the soon-to-be-31-year-old would be looking for a raise and some long-term security.

That assessment changed on Wednesday, when La Canfora reported that it isn’t his contract that Williams is upset about:

The “recent medical situation” La Canfora is referring to is a tumor that Williams had removed from his scalp this offseason. According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, doctors thought that the growth could be malignant, but the surgery was performed without issue—The Washington Post said Tuesday that it was benign—and Williams was expected to be back by training camp.

ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio echoed La Canfora’s report, saying that “there’s a sense in some league circles that Williams is concerned about more than his contract, and that he has hard feelings against the team regarding the manner in which the tumor/growth on his head was handled.” Redskins beat reporter Lake Lewis Jr. said that the issue may go beyond Williams and be about an overall lack of trust between players and the team’s doctors:

Asked on Wednesday about Williams, head coach Jay Gruden said, “I know he’s frustrated … any time you have a procedure done of that magnitude, you want to find a reason which something could have been done differently.” Gruden went on to say the team’s doctors are “very good” and “did the right thing in their mind.”

It’s still not clear what exactly happened between Williams and the team, but this saga appears far from over. Financial differences can be negotiated over, but a collapse in trust is hard to move past—just ask the Spurs and Kawhi Leonard.

How good is Williams?

He’s made the Pro Bowl in each of the last seven seasons. As Pro Football Focus noted on Tuesday, he has the third-highest grade over the past three seasons among left tackles (only David Bakhtiari and Joe Staley are higher). And the team’s overall pass-blocking and run-blocking grades sink when Williams is off the field. He had a bit of a down year last season (21st by PFF grades), but it’s too soon to say his career is in decline.

That established, Williams’s game is not without holes. The biggest concern is durability: He has played a full 16-game season just twice in his nine-year career, and he hasn’t accomplished that feat since 2013. Granted, that’s par for the course for Washington’s offensive line, which has been plagued with injuries for years.

Who is Williams’s immediate replacement?

When Williams was out of the lineup between weeks 9 and 11 last season, Washington started Ty Nsekhe at the left tackle spot. But Nsekhe took a contract from Buffalo in the offseason, and now the options behind Williams leave a lot to be desired. First up is likely Geron Christian, Washington’s third-round pick from the 2018 draft. He played in only two games last season before tearing his MCL in Week 10. He’s a completely unknown commodity, but has a chance to prove himself.

The team’s starting right tackle, Morgan Moses, hasn’t taken more than one snap on the left side in a game since his rookie year in 2014—so the Redskins probably prefer to keep him at his usual position.

Washington signed Ereck Flowers this offseason, but it likely wasn’t intending on putting him in a starting role. Flowers started only nine games last year, splitting time between the Giants and Jaguars. Before 2018, Flowers’s track record was long and concerning: In 2015, he led all offensive linemen in pressures allowed (with 69, while the next worst was 59); in 2016, he was second worst (59 pressures allowed); and in 2017, he was tied for 13th-worst (41 in 15 games).

After Flowers, there’s almost no one else left fit for tackle duty. Right guard Brandon Scherff played left tackle in college, but his skill set made him a natural fit for the interior even before he moved to the pros. He has never taken an offensive snap in the NFL at any position other than right guard, per Pro Football Focus. Timon Parris is the only other tackle on the roster. He was an undrafted free agent last year out of Stony Brook, and appeared in one game last season.

Who is available for the team to sign?

The Raiders cut former Pro Bowl tackle Donald Penn this offseason, and he has yet to find a home. The 12-year veteran has the highest combination of talent and experience that Washington will find at this point, but he also missed all but four games last year as he battled groin and leg injuries, and at age 36, his best days are behind him. Still, he’d be worth bringing in for a workout; Rams offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth just had two of his best seasons ever at ages 36 and 37, so it’s not like tackles can’t be productive into their mid-30s.

After Penn, there are tackles like Jermey Parnell and Ryan Schraeder available, though they don’t have nearly as much experience on the left side. Outside of a trade, it’s slim pickings for Washington at this point.

Which teams could be interested in Trent Williams?

Left tackle is one of the NFL’s few premier positions, a spot worth shelling out dollars and assets for to get top talent. So if Washington is open to dealing Williams, any team that isn’t set at that spot should at least make a phone call. Williams would bring a cap hit of more than $11 million to a new team, and while franchises can always work salary cap magic, there are currently 12 teams that don’t have that much space.

The team that jumps off the page is the Browns. They’re fourth in available cap space, with more than $32.7 million, and started Greg Robinson at left tackle last season. Cleveland is hoping to revitalize the former no. 2 pick’s career, but his spot is by no means a sure thing. Williams is a clear upgrade—and would help Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham Jr., and Cleveland’s exciting offense reach its full potential. The Browns likely want to follow the Seahawks, Eagles, and Rams and contend while they have their talented passer on an inexpensive rookie deal, so a trade for Williams fits the franchise’s timeline. Do it, Cleveland.

What does this mean for the future of the Redskins?

Alienating a franchise left tackle is never good, but it’s a bona fide disaster when that left tackle is supposed to be defending the blind side of a rookie quarterback. That this development is occurring after both the draft and the bulk of free agency means that Washington will almost certainly go into 2019 with a big question mark at the position.

Washington probably should be more prepared than this. The team may not have been able to foresee Williams’s trade request, but as detailed above, the left tackle misses games virtually every season. When Nsekhe left, it would have been wise for the franchise to invest in a competent backup who could jump into the starting role. That ship has now sailed.

If Washington can’t repair its relationship with Williams, fans will have to grit their teeth through Dwayne Haskins’s rookie year. It wasn’t that long ago that Robert Griffin III’s rookie season was marred by injury, and inadequate pocket protection can derail a young passer’s career. The last thing Washington wants is for Haskins to become the next David Carr or Josh Rosen. But if Williams is out, that’s the risk the franchise is taking.