Photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers

Photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers

Rosenthal expects 49ers tackle Trent Williams to be the highest-paid player in free agency

Mar 3, 2021 at 9:19 AM--

The San Francisco 49ers let wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders leave via free agency after pulling off a mid-season trade with the Denver Broncos to acquire him. He was seen as a piece that could help lift the team to a championship, and it came very close to accomplishing that last year.

Could offensive tackle Trent Williams be one-and-done, too? Last year, San Francisco traded for Williams to replace the retiring Joe Staley, giving up draft capital in the process. Williams is the most prominent name among the 49ers' long list of impending free agents.

NFL Network's Gregg Rosenthal recently ranked his top 101 free agents in 2021. Williams came in at No. 2 behind only Dak Prescott. He doesn't feel the Dallas Cowboys quarterback will hit the open market, though—unlike Williams.

"A Hall of Fame-caliber player like Williams performing near his peak at a premium position will do incredibly well in the open market," wrote Rosenthal in his analysis. "(And Williams will get there because the 49ers agreed not to tag him.) Great tackles often play well into their late 30s, which is why I fully expect Williams to become the highest-paid player at his position."

Rosenthal recently spoke with Andrew Siciliano on NFL Network and expressed that Williams could find himself in high demand in a couple of weeks.

"He is (going to hit free agency) because his agent was smart enough to put a no franchise tag clause in his last contract, and he went out and he balled," Rosenthal said. "I feel like people don't know how good Trent Williams is. I think he's going to be in Canton one day, especially if he stays healthy for the rest of his career. At his age, 32, turning 33, guys can play left tackle for four, five, six more years at a high level. He is one of the strongest left tackles we have ever seen in the NFL, and he's coming off a season where I think he played as well as any left tackle in the league.

"A lot of talk about, oh, the cap's going down. It's not going to matter for Trent Williams. He is going to get paid. I think he will be the highest-paid player in free agency and very possibly the highest-paid left tackle in the NFL."

That may not bode well for San Francisco, which is estimated to have just about $13 million in salary-cap space. Right now, according to Spotrac, the highest-paid tackle is David Bakhtiari, who earns an average of $23 million a year.

The 49ers reportedly had "extensive" contract talks with Williams' representatives just before the end of the season, but the discussions didn't result in a new deal for the eight-time Pro Bowl selection. Williams has expressed a desire to remain with San Francisco but is curious about free agency.

"Regardless, San Francisco would be the lead candidate," Williams told reporters in January, "so whether it's now or whether it is in free agency, a team has to convince me it's better there than it will be here. Even if it does make it to free agency, it won't be because I'm trying to go somewhere else. It may simply (be) just because I may want to see my value."

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