49ers’ Wil­liams trade was sneaky, per­fect

Times Standard (Eureka) - - SPORTS - Di­eter Kurten­bach

The 49ers were op­er­at­ing in the shad­ows and emerged Satur­day morn­ing with a new left tackle, ac­quired for pen­nies on the dol­lar.

Trent Wil­liams is one of the finest of­fen­sive line­men in the NFL and a per­fect fit for Kyle Shana­han’s wide-zone scheme (which he ran for Shana­han once upon a time). Satur­day morn­ing, the Nin­ers traded away their fifth-round draft pick in this draft and a third-round draft pick in next year’s draft to ac­quire Wil­liams from Wash­ing­ton.

The value of what the Nin­ers re­ceived from Wash­ing­ton in com­par­i­son to what they sent east is com­i­cally in­com­men­su­rate. A tackle of this cal­iber should be worth a first-round pick.

On the stan­dard NFL draft pick value chart, a first-round pick — at least the kind that could have been fair for Wil­liams — would have cost be­tween 600 and 1000 “points.” The Nin­ers sent picks worth an es­ti­mated 100 points to Wash­ing­ton.

How did they get away with that kind of rob­bery?

Well, Wil­liams was ef­fec­tively re­tired — re­fus­ing to play for Wash­ing­ton with­out a new con­tract and changes to the team’s train­ing staff. He also, re­port­edly, ve­toed a trade to Min­nesota (an­other wide-zone scheme team) in the past few days.

Much in the same way Rob Gronkowski was traded from New Eng­land to Tampa Bay for a fourth-round pick this week, Wil­liams picked his des­ti­na­tion — San Francisco — and Wash­ing­ton, not want­ing to lose a player of his cal­iber for noth­ing at the end of this sea­son (his hold­out was likely to con­tinue) had lit­tle lever­age to ex­tract a fair-mar­ket value in trad­ing him.

The pe­cu­liar­ity of the cir­cum­stance in Wash­ing­ton al­lowed the Nin­ers to land an All-Pro­cal­iber of­fen­sive line­men for for­get­table draft cap­i­tal — picks that, bar­ring a mir­a­cle, wouldn’t have been able to net a player like Wil­liams had they been used by San Francisco.

Wil­liams’ acquisitio­n only bol­sters the Nin­ers’ as­pi­ra­tions to re­turn to the Super Bowl this up­com­ing sea­son. It’s a win­now move for a team that has no rea­son to think it shouldn’t be winning now.

For that alone, the trade is a win for San Francisco.

Wil­liams is also com­ing in to re­place vet­eran left tackle Joe Sta­ley, who is ex­pected to re­tire.

In the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of the trade, Nin­ers fans were no doubt sali­vat­ing — a front five of Sta­ley, Laken Tom­lin­son, We­ston Rich­burg, Mike McGlinchey, and Wil­liams would have been dom­i­nant.

Sta­ley — a six-time Pro Bowler who was a mem­ber of the NFL’s All-Decade team — dealt with se­ri­ous in­juries for the first time in his ca­reer last year and had been sub­ject to re­tire­ment ru­mors for months. There were plenty of peo­ple around the Nin­ers and the league who thought that he had taken his last snap for San Francisco.

But Nin­ers fans were fair to think that the Wil­liams trade was a case of the rich get­ting richer.

Be­fore the NFL Draft, Nin­ers gen­eral man­ager John Lynch said that the team had “kept in good con­tact” with Sta­ley.

“He’s do­ing his typ­i­cal rou­tine down with his fam­ily in San Diego work­ing out. We’re en­cour­aged. We’ve heard noth­ing that would lead us to be­lieve that Joe’s not go­ing to play. We’re en­cour­aged with that and we’ll see where that goes,” Lynch said.

It was all a smoke­screen.

Sta­ley’s de­lay in an­nounc­ing his re­tire­ment helped the Nin­ers ac­quire his re­place­ment. The team’s pass­ing on elite of­fen­sive line prospects in the first round of the draft could have been a hint, but amid the rel­a­tive chaos of a vir­tual draft, the Nin­ers were able to clan­des­tinely orches­trate a block­buster deal for a younger player that could be con­sid­ered an up­grade to Sta­ley.

Fi­nan­cially, ac­quir­ing Wil­liams is made far eas­ier — per­haps pos­si­ble — by Sta­ley’s re­tire­ment. Wil­liams is on the fi­nal year of his Wash­ing­ton con­tract, worth $12.5 mil­lion against the cap in 2020, but, again, is seek­ing a new deal. With Laremy Tun­sil agree­ing to a con­tract worth $22 mil­lion per sea­son with the Tex­ans this week, Wil­liams’ al­ready big cut of the salary cap could in­crease mov­ing for­ward. Still, ex­pect the Nin­ers to im­me­di­ately en­gage in con­tract ex­ten­sion talks with Wil­liams.

Tak­ing on Wil­liams’ con­tract and then giv­ing him a likely raise would have been dif­fi­cult with Sta­ley on the ros­ter, as he has cap hits of $11.5 mil­lion and $12.5 mil­lion in 2020 and 2021, re­spec­tively. Those come off the Nin­ers books with a re­tire­ment.

I don’t be­lieve there’s any rea­son to be skep­ti­cal of a con­tract ex­ten­sion for Wil­liams, though. He goes months with­out al­low­ing sacks (he’s al­lowed four in his last three sea­sons, per Stats Per­form) and in 6,117 of­fen­sive line snaps in the NFL, has been called for hold­ing 25 times. And com­ing off a sab­bat­i­cal year, he has main­tained his weight (an is­sue for many of­fen­sive line­men who take time away from the league) and should be health­ier than the av­er­age vet­eran of­fen­sive line­men as he comes west. If he’s healthy and mo­ti­vated, he can be dom­i­nant.

Per­haps the rich did get richer.

RON SCHWANE — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS, FILE

Trent Wil­liams (71), above block­ing Browns line­backer Scott Solomon (54) dur­ing a 2015pre­sea­son game in Cleve­land, was ac­quired by the 49ers on Satur­day. The Nin­ers will sent a fifth-round pick in this year’s draft and a 2021 third-rounder to ac­quire Wil­liams.

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