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It’s time to trade Trent Williams

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NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Washington Redskins Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Trade Trent Williams? Those words would have been unthinkable 6 months ago. Trent has been one of the team’s cornerstones since being drafted in the first round in 2010. Seven-time Pro Bowler, mentor, bulwark of the offensive line. Most of us hoped that after his current contract was up, after the 2020 season, he would either retire a Redskin, or be signed to a short term extension and eventually do so. Alas, things have taken a dark turn.

At this point, it’s difficult to say exactly why, but Trent appears to be pretty upset with the team, and has already missed mandatory mini-camp, and the first couple of days of training camp. It was initially reported that some mix of dissatisfaction with his current contract and the Redskins’ medical staff was the source of the consternation, but we’ve yet to hear from Trent, his agent, or the team on the definitive source of the impasse.

In any case, Trent has two years left on his contract - which currently compensates him as the 7th highest paid player at his position - and has shown no signs that he intends to show up for training camp. Now would appear to be as good a time as any to explore the team’s options.

The Path Forward

The reality was always that we were very close to needing to think about Trent’s future replacement. Even though he is only 31, injuries have slowed him down sufficiently that he hasn’t played a full 16 games since 2013. Over the last three seasons, injuries forced him to miss 13 games, over 25% of the games in each of those years.

In 2018, the Redskins drafted Geron Christian in the 3rd round, leading to speculation by some that he might be Trent’s eventual replacement. A rocky 2018 season, which included an MCL tear, has thrown some cold water on those hopes. Two more years on Trent’s contract appeared to give us time to continue to groom Christian and/or draft an additional replacement in 2020 or 2021. That horizon has been prematurely shortened.

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Miami Dolphins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Assuming Trent doesn’t show back up to camp imminently, there needs to be Plan B in place - one that doesn’t involve Ereck Flowers.

The Redskins currently have Donald Penn, formerly of the Oakland Raiders, in camp for a work out. Penn is a three time Pro Bowler - most recently in 2017 - when he was also the tackle with the second best run block percentage in the league, but was moved to right tackle in 2018, and suffered a season ending groin injury four games into the year. There’s also been speculation that Penn wasn’t completely comfortable at RT and would much prefer to play LT.

Before an injury in late 2017, Penn had started 170 straight games, one of the longest streaks in the league. Penn is 36 years old, and very unlikely to be a long term solution, but if he has anything left in the tank, he could potentially be a pleasant, veteran surprise - ala Adrian Peterson - this season. In Penn’s last season with the Raiders, he was paid $5.6M, so my guess is that a one-year contract with the Redskins would run in the $3-4M range, reasonable for a back-up tackle, and outstanding for a starting one.

What Would That Mean for Trent?

Is Trent mad about his salary? Is he mad about the medical staff? Is he mad about both? Functionally, it probably doesn’t matter much. If he’s mad about his salary, that’s unfortunate, but when the team made him the top paid OL in the game in 2015, they presumably expected him to honor his contract over its full life. Trent’s pay has slipped relative to his peers, but renegotiating the terms of his contract - beyond perhaps guaranteeing the last two remaining years - would set a miserable precedent for the team, and lay the foundation for similar moves by other top players.

Has the medical staff, or the front office, done Trent wrong? Did they give him bad advice regarding the tumor on his scalp? We don’t yet know, though second hand accounts do seem to suggest that Williams had a major health scare. That shouldn’t be minimized, and if there are issues with the medical staff, those should be addressed by the team. Regardless, it’s not clear what, if any moves, would satiate Trent. Should doctors be fired? Should Bruce be fired (yes)? Should they all be fired? Who knows. In any case, such a resolution on this appears unlikely to come before the season starts. If the rumors are true, Trent was so upset that at one point he “vowed” not to play for the team again and demanded a trade.

What Now?

With salary re-negotiations off the table, a replacement LT (theoretically) in hand, and a highly coveted LT refusing to come into camp, the team has essentially three options: 1) Cut Trent Williams (will never happen); 2) Engage in a game of chicken with Trent. Allow him to continue to hold out (losing out on ~$688k/game) and watch his value circle the toilet bowl through the fall; 3) Trade him ASAP.

Option 1 is clearly a non-starter. A cut may satisfy Trent, but it would be a ridiculous move on the part of the team. I only mention it here because it is, theoretically, possible. If Trent is unhappy enough here that he doesn’t want to play for the team under his current terms AND is willing to lose out on millions of dollars, the team owes it to itself to move on. Not for Trent, but because every game lost is a depreciation of one of its most valuable assets.

So what would a trade for Trent Williams look like? Thankfully, we have a pretty solid, recent comp. In early 2017, LT Duane Brown was unhappy with his contract with the Houston Texans and held out for the first seven games of the season. Brown came back for game 8, and the Texans promptly traded him and a 2018 5th rounder to Seattle for a 2018 third rounder and 2019 second rounder. In rough terms, it might be fair to say they traded about half a season of Brown for the value of two subsequent year third rounders.

Brown was a 4 time Pro Bowler (and one time All Pro), so he occupies a space in the left tackle pantheon not far from Trent. However, we would be looking at making Trent available for a full season. For a LT needy team looking to win now, like the Texans or Browns, he could conceivably bring a couple of second rounders, or perhaps even a first. Moving Trent this year would also save the Redskins about $9.3M in cap space.

Conclusion

Sometimes it takes catastrophic events to wake us from our slumber. In this particular case, the unthinkable has happened, and Trent Williams appears ready and willing to part ways with the Redskins. If we are able to sign a capable veteran to step in, assisted by a young tackle in training, we may be unlikely to match Trent’s production at the position, but we will, at the very least, replace it with a significant savings in salary cap ($9.3M in 2019 and $12.75M in 2020) and the draft pick(s) to, if necessary, take his long term replacement next year. It’s hard to say goodbye to one of the team’s few bright spots over the course of the past decade, but this shake up may ultimately be just what the team needed in order to move forward, unshackled by the nostaglia for a player on the declining side of his career.

Poll

What should we do with Trent Williams?

This poll is closed

  • 17%
    Pay him.
    (465 votes)
  • 19%
    Wait him out.
    (498 votes)
  • 63%
    Trade him.
    (1657 votes)
2620 votes total Vote Now