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Could Trent Williams take a discount to help the Niners sign more free agents?

Williams explained how it’s not always about the bottom line

Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images

Trent Williams coming back to the 49ers next season feels as close to inevitable as any unrestricted free agent on San Francisco’s roster. He’s gone out of his way to mention that he wants to return to the Bay Area next year, and his comments didn’t change on Monday:

“Honestly, it don’t matter to me. Regardless, San Francisco would be the lead candidate, 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.”

That sounds like Williams doesn’t expect to be a free agent by the time March rolls around, and, if he is, that doesn’t mean the door is closed on his return to the Niners next season. Remember, he turned down a trade to Minnesota last year before coming to San Francisco.

Williams had a good point about franchise left tackles never hitting the open market:

“It’s been 11 years in the league. I have yet to see a franchise left tackle go to the open market. I think it would be interesting to kind of see what the value holds. Regardless, like I said, I’ve always maintained the same thing. I think San Francisco is my number one destination, and we’ll see how things work out.”

Franchise left tackles get tagged or traded. You don’t shop for them during free agency. It doesn’t matter if Jimmy Garoppolo or Steve Young was under center; the Niners should do everything they can to bring back Williams, especially after his 2020 season.

Per Sports Info Solutions, Williams's blown block percentage was 1.3 on the season. Williams finished with 12 blown blocks on the year, and five of those came against Miami during the 49ers Week 5 matchup against the Dolphins. For reference, Saints left tackle Terron Armstead is viewed as one of the best left tackles in the game, and his blown block rate was 1.6. Browns' right guard Wyatt Teller is viewed by many as the best guard in football this season, and his blown block rate was 1.8.

The 49ers front office should and will do everything in their power to ensure Williams doesn’t leave the building. My question is, is there such thing as a hometown discount? I asked Trent if he’d consider taking a discount knowing San Francisco has 100 (give or take) unrestricted free agents this offseason. Here’s what he said:

“I don’t know if discount might be the right word, but as far as the payout, you can compromise with that. You can defer. There are so many different ways to make a contract fit. It’s not just the bottom line. I would never want to hinder the team to where we can’t be who we think we can be or should be. When you got guys in the front office that are very smart, they kind of find ways to get things done.”

On the one hand, this offseason could be the last contract a few 49ers receive in their career. I wouldn’t blame them for protecting themselves, thinking about the future, and maximizing how much money they get. Who wouldn’t? On the other hand, Paarag Marathe and the front office always find ways to front or backload contracts, make sure the guarantees are pushed to another year if the team is short on money in the current year, you name it, they’ll figure out a way to make the contract work.

In Williams’s case, assuming he’s a 49er next year, that initial number is expected to be big, and perhaps as high as $20 million per year. Let’s wait until we see the full contract details before anybody freaks out. Based on how he’s played this season and how valuable Williams is to the offense, whatever number he gets, he’s worth it. It’s on the front office to shuffle the money around to where the Niners are in a position to sign multiple free agents.

George Kittle’s cap number for 2020 was $5.8 million. Arik Armstead’s was $6 million. There are ways to get creative and push money into future years. That’s what the 49ers might have to do to bring their core free agents back.