Regardless of whether Jimmy Garoppolo, Mac Jones or another top rookie quarterback lines up under center for the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1, they’ll sleep a little easier knowing that the blindside is solidified for the foreseeable future.
After weeks of speculation, left tackle Trent Williams didn’t waste much time re-signing with the 49ers on a monster deal when free agency officially opened on March 17.
However, not everyone was thrilled by the team’s decision to tie up $138 million over six years to retain the eight-time Pro Bowler.
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Salary Cap Expert ‘Hated’ Williams’ New Contract
In a recent feature examining things we’ve learned for all 32 NFL teams this offseason, The Athletic’s Sheil Kapadia tapped Over The Cap’s Jason Fitzgerald for some deeper insight on the big-name signings around the league.
In terms of Williams’ megadeal, the NFL salary cap and contract expert didn’t mince words.
“I hated the Trent Williams contract,” Fitzgerald explained, via The Athletic. “I think $23 million a year, and I know the front end is about $20 million a year, but a guy who has a history of missing three to four games a season, was suspended once, 33 years old. I hate that contract.”
Now the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history, Williams’ $23.01 million average annual value tops the previous breadwinner — Green Bay’s David Bakhtiari — by $10,000. When on the field, the former No. 4 overall pick has proven to be one of the league’s elite blockers over the past decade. However, despite starting 133-of-134 regular season games during that span, he has not played a full 16-game season since 2013.
As Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer also pointed out in March, Williams will effectively take home $20 million annually over the first four years, which is closer to the range many expected the talented left tackle to sign for.
Williams gets $38.9M fully guaranteed at signing. Another $6.2M will be guaranteed for '23 next March. So deal really is for $60.75 million over 3 years ($20.25 million per). Then … We'll see.
(Also, $750K in per-game RBs each year, $100K in workout bonuses starting in '22.)
— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) March 18, 2021
Despite the $138 million headline figure, Williams’ contract doesn’t necessarily rise to the level of Fitzgerald’s criticism, barring a career-altering injury in the next 12-24 months.
In fact, it is effectively a three-year, $60.6 million deal that pays Williams $30.1 million in an up-front signing bonus, but gives the 49ers a potential out after the 2023 campaign, at which point the Texas native will be nearing his 36th birthday. Should the Niners choose to move on at that point — whether because of quality of play or unforeseen financial constraints — the club would only be on the hook for $12 million in dead money, compared to this season’s $40.1 million figure.
In the short term, the deal is structured in the team’s favor in terms of salary cap space, accounting for only an $8.1 million cap hit in 2021 (sixth-highest on roster) and a modest $14.1 million number in 2022.
"Faithful, I'm back."
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) March 24, 2021
Williams Could Play Himself Into the History Books
Should the 6-foot-5, 320-pound mauler play out all six years of his new agreement, he’ll have a legitimate chance to become only the eighth offensive lineman to play in the NFL at age 40 or older, according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. During his media availability shortly after putting pen to paper, Williams revealed that the milestone is very much on his radar.
“I think just going off of that and knowing the medicine now and the way the NFL takes care of their players now, I think yeah, I think playing until 40 is well within reach,” Williams told reporters on March 23. “The way I feel right now, I do think I have six years in my body. But I’m not going to be unrealistic. I’m going to take it one day at a time and continue to plug away at it. But that is the goal. I have something to prove. Can I play at a high level until I’m 40? We’ll see.”
Williams certainly wouldn’t be the first blindside protector to perform into his late 30s, as stalwarts like Jason Peters, Andrew Whitworth and the 49ers’ own Joe Staley have proven in recent years, but taking that next step hinges on the Pro Bowler still playing at a high level.
“I never intend on being below average, and the day I do, I will hang the cleats up.”
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