The San Francisco 49ers already made an exceptional trade on day one in the 2020 NFL Draft by trading down one spot, but general manager John Lynch outdid himself by trading for Pro Bowl offensive tackle Trent Williams.
Before I even begin talking about the San Francisco 49ers‘ move to acquire Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams from the Washington Redskins, I want to thank the player he will be replacing, now-retired and hopeful future Hall of Fame left tackle Joe Staley.
Staley embodied what it meant to be a Niners player. He was all class all the time, played through some of the worst times and the best times in recent years for the franchise, all with a smile on his face, and came so close to hoisting that Lombardi Trophy. His decision to wait to announce his retirement until after the 49ers traded for Williams shows not only the respect he has for the franchise, but the care he has.
Hopefully, his retirement treats him well.
Knowing this, San Francisco had a few options about how to replace this franchise icon. Having passed on Iowa offensive lineman Tristan Wirfs in the first round for South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, the Niners would have a major hole on the left side and not a lot of high-end talent available to replace it. The fact they were able to acquire a player at the caliber of Williams in of itself is incredible.
Williams is a five-time All-Pro and seven-time Pro Bowler whose main concern is durability. However, he repeatedly bashed the Redskins medical staff for making his injury issues even worse, perhaps making it his injuries a little less of a concern. There’s no guarantee the Niners will get him for all 16 games.
However, when Williams does play, he’s dominant. From 2016 through 2018, Pro Football Focus ranked him as the third-best tackle in the league, 0.1 points behind Staley, actually. Williams is four years younger than Staley and had an entire season off to recover his body.
On a purely objective scale, getting Williams was a fantastic move.
But what really made this move arguably the best in the entire draft is how little the 49ers gave up for Williams. A 2020 fifth- and a 2021 third-round pick on their own is fair compensation for Williams, even if he does become a rental. But that’s not the only thing.
Williams is looking for an average-per-year salary of upwards of $20 million, according to CBS Sports. That’s not unreasonable, but it is a lot and probably more than the 49ers can afford.
However, therein lies the beauty of the trade.
If Williams’ contract demands drop to something the Niners can afford, San Francisco would have gotten a stalwart anchor for the offensive line for only a fifth- and a third-round pick. If Williams manages to get a contract at around $20 million plus per year, the Niners will miss out but get something else in return: a compensatory pick.
Since the 49ers won’t be swimming in cap space and have a pretty stacked roster as it stands, they’ll likely not be signing an outside free agent for the same contract demands Williams has. Because of that, they’d likely receive a compensatory pick for the 2022 draft.
If Williams gets his monster contract, that amount of money (contract length and value go into deciding compensatory picks) would likely give the Niners a third-round comp pick for 2022.
That’s right, the 49ers would get back a third-round pick.
That means, functionally, San Francisco would have traded only a fifth-round pick for a Pro Bowl-caliber player at a position of incredible importance. There’s little-to-no chance their selection in this draft would have rendered the same result. The Niners have been good in the fifth round as of late, but teams can’t bank on that.
Not only is that exceptional value, it fits perfectly with the win-now attitude the 49ers have been showing. It’s a shrewd move that maximizes current value while still keeping future flexibility. It’s how good teams stay competitive for multiple years.
The 49ers made some shrewd decisions during the draft, but this trade for Williams might be the best move general manager John Lynch has made. The Niners not only struck gold. they found the entire deposit for miles around.