News & Analysis

Trading for Trent Williams allows the 49ers to seamlessly move on from LT Joe Staley

The Washington Redskins finally cut bait and agreed to trade left tackle Trent Williams to the San Francisco 49ers in a move that allows the Niners to move on from longtime left tackle Joe Staley seamlessly.

Recent reports suggest that Staley is now expected to retire, leaving Williams to get back to playing football after medical issues and subsequent standoff with Washington stalled his career.

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Williams is one of the best left tackles in football and will be expected to remain so in 2020. What he loses in terms of rust from not playing in a year he likely gains back in getting his body 100%, which was his only real flaw of recent years.

It’s been six seasons (one of which he didn’t suit up for) since he last played 16 games or over 1,000 snaps in a season. The 49ers will undoubtedly be hoping that a year of no football will have had a positive effect on his durability and that they won’t have to contend without him for a game or two this next season.

Trent Williams: Snaps played, PFF grade and PFF grade rank (2010-18)
Season Snaps played PFF grade PFF grade rank
2018 792 75.6 20th of 83
2017 615 82.6 5th of 86
2016 795 92.7 1st of 86
2015 999 84.7 8th of 81
2014 886 82.1 13th of 87
2013 1,148 91.8 1st of 80
2012 1,025 80.4 11th of 80
2011 627 79.0 13th of 76
2010 870 63.4 58th of 78

After an average rookie season, Williams had eight consecutive seasons with an overall PFF grade north of 75.0, including two that topped 91.0 and four more above 80.0. His last two seasons playing saw him cough up just one sack, and he’s every bit as devastating a run-blocker as he is in pass protection.

In his career, Williams has ranked inside the top 10 in terms of PFF grade among tackles four times, and he led the position in PFF grade on two occasions.

Back in 2012, Joe Staley helped anchor the 49ers offensive line when it was the best unit in the NFL. He has continued his excellent play ever since, earning a PFF grade of 93.1 over those season seasons. Williams matched him almost exactly with a grade of 92.9, however, and Williams was actually a superior pass blocker (91.8 pass-blocking grade to an 89.0).

Williams has also shown some positional flexibility to his game in the past. When Washington’s offensive line was marred by injury in 2016, Williams kicked inside to left guard and looked like he would have been an All-Pro player inside as well as out at tackle. This isn’t a big selling point for the 49ers, who simply want a Joe Staley replacement, but it’s a nice bonus.

Ultimately this is a team whose moves are about getting back to the Super Bowl. In the draft, they have been content with limiting the number of picks they have to chase impact players, knowing that the roster is strong enough that they don’t have much space for young rookies to make the team and contribute right away anyway.

Joe Staley retiring would have dealt a significant blow to that philosophy and opened up a major potential weak point on a side that otherwise doesn’t have many flaws, but Trent Williams allows them to seamlessly transition for the cost of just a couple of mid-round picks, one of which is next year.

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