Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

PFF: Trent Williams is the one free agent the 49ers can’t afford to lose

Jan 19, 2021 at 8:23 AM--

Trent Williams proved to be a good replacement for retired offensive tackle Joe Staley. In fact, Williams anchoring the offensive line's left side looked like an upgrade, and his addition was a bright spot in an otherwise depressing injury-plagued season for the defending NFC champions.

The only problem is that the San Francisco 49ers knew they were getting Williams with just one season left on his contract. Now, they'll need to find a way to ensure the veteran tackle becomes one of the top-paid offensive linemen in the league. Williams is one of nearly 40 Niners who played last season on the final year of their contracts.

Brad Spielberger of Pro Football Focus recently took a look at the 32 NFL teams and named one impending free agent that each cannot afford to lose this offseason. For the 49ers, it was Williams.

"The 49ers pulled off a draft-day heist (something they've been quite good at in recent years) in acquiring Trent Williams from the Washington Football Team in exchange for a 2020 fifth-round and 2021 third-round pick," wrote Spielberger.

"Williams' extended absence from playing football was not evident on tape whatsoever, as he returned to form as one of the best tackles in the NFL. Williams had the highest run-blocking grade in the league among tackles (91.5) — an extremely important skill in Kyle Shanahan's outside zone run scheme. In addition, Williams also ranked ninth in pass-block grade at 85.6."

According to Pro Football Focus, Williams allowed four sacks this season, but none came after Week 5. He finished the season as the analytics site's highest-graded tackle and second-highest-graded offensive lineman.

"It's truly staggering that Williams could play at this high of a level after a full year off and with a new team," Spielberger continued, "especially after a limited offseason. Players this good are very hard to let go."

Pro Football Focus recently predicted that Williams returns to the 49ers on a four-year, $80 million deal with $62.5 million total guaranteed and $45 million fully guaranteed at signing. However, Spielberger notes that the 49ers would not lose too much should team and player fail to strike a deal.

"Working in San Francisco's favor if they do decide to move on is the fact they will most likely earn a third-round compensatory pick in 2022 when (not if) Williams signs a massive deal elsewhere," added Spielberger. "So they can recoup the majority of their trade investment if they view Williams as just a rental."

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