Depending on what happens with the NFL’s 2021 salary cap—which is expected to increase, the Indianapolis Colts could have as much as a projected $78.5 million of total salary cap space to work with this offseason.
While the Colts have a number of young key core players to plan extra salary cap space for regarding imminent extensions—including some new mega-deals coming up for Darius Leonard, Braden Smith, and Quenton Nelson, the franchise could still have a little bit of salary cap ‘spare change’ in their pocket to potentially play around with this upcoming free agency period.
Particularly, if the team trades up for a top rookie quarterback (i.e., Justin Fields, Zach Wilson, or Trey Lance), which could save the franchise some salary cap space in the short-term at the starting quarterback position (providing them the ability to pursue additional team luxuries/positional upgrades elsewhere).
[For example, consider that 2020 6th overall pick, quarterback Justin Herbert will have just an $8.5M cap hit three years from now in 2023. That’s big time savings annually for the Chargers while he’s currently on his rookie contract.]
In such a trade up scenario, where the Colts presumably have to trade their first round pick (#21) and more (roughly an additional future first rounder and a second/third round pick), signing veteran San Francisco 49ers’ blindside bookend Trent Williams could be a logical move to more than shore up Indianapolis’ vacant left tackle spot:
The Colts, a contender who have the NFL's fourth-most salary cap space, now need a left tackle.#49ers LT Trent Williams on Jan. 4 on free agency: "I am curious to see what my value is around the league.” https://t.co/Rh4rH9YhfX— Eric Branch (@Eric_Branch) January 12, 2021
The former 4th overall pick of the 2010 NFL Draft by Washington proved that he’s still one of the best left tackles in all of football during 2020—only this time around, for the 49ers in his debut campaign on the West Coast.
The 32 year old started in 14 games for San Francisco this past season, and he was PFF’s best graded offensive tackle overall with a +91.9 grade—which was highlighted by a monstrous +91.8 run blocking grade (the top among all players at his position).
In pass protection, Williams allowed just 4 total sacks and 19 total QB pressures, but all 4 of those sacks came in the 49ers’ first 5 games—as perhaps the veteran had to shake off some initial rust with no preseason and after missing the entirety of the 2019 season (because of a lingering head injury/holdout due to his unhappiness with Washington’s medical staff and mistreatment of his prior injury—before finally forcing a trade out to ‘golder pastures’).
In 2020, Williams generated a +0.4 WAR by PFF, which is the best figure for an offensive tackle since the advanced grade web site started grading in 2006. It was the second best grade of Williams’ entire highly accomplished 10-year pro career.
Williams is a 1x NFL 2nd-Team All-Pro and an 8x NFL Pro Bowler, and perhaps the only realistically available replacement at left tackle this offseason, who would actually be an upgrade to his theoretical Indy predecessor, recently retired longtime Colts veteran anchor Anthony Castonzo (and believe me, the next guy will have some serious shoes to fill).
However, Williams can more than fill ‘em.
Spotrac currently projects Williams to receive a 3-year, $54.8M contract at around $18.3M per year over that same span. However, if Rams’ All-Pro left tackle Andrew Whitworth could obtain a lucrative 3-year deal at 36 years old in 2017, it’s reasonable to think that Williams could get at least a fourth-year on his next contract—particularly as other fellow veteran tackle greats like Jason Peters and Duane Brown have also aged well in comparison.
For what it’s worth, PFF projects Williams to obtain four years, $80 million ($20M APY) deal—with $62.5 million total guaranteed and $45 million fully guaranteed at signing. He’s their highest ranked 2021 free agent offensive lineman this offseason:
“After not playing a snap in 2019, Williams is back in his rightful place as one of the league’s best offensive tackles. He can play in any scheme, moving defenders at the point of attack or cutting them off on the backside of zone plays, while linebackers must keep their head on a swivel because he attacks the second level with a vengeance.”
So what could Colts fans potentially expect?
First play of the game Trent Williams pulls, leads, and crushes an unsuspecting linebacker pic.twitter.com/4nJMtcAYr6— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) December 15, 2020
Double tackle pancake alert— Ted Nguyen (@FB_FilmAnalysis) December 28, 2020
Need a bigger light cylinder for Trent Williams pic.twitter.com/qVetPkxcZN
Trent Williams makes it look easy pic.twitter.com/PE8sEsW2gm— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) October 20, 2020
Trent Williams working off multiple threats in pass-protection this calmly is so impressive. Eyes are past Matthews looking through to the secondary man (slot CB blitz), uses independent hands to pass off 1, fans out to 2. Blindside locked down: pic.twitter.com/ewa80qFMqG— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) September 25, 2018
Simply put, at 6’5”, 320 pounds, Williams is a certified mauler in space (and overall monster) in the ground game at starting left tackle—with some sweet feet in pass protection on the blindside as ‘a dancing bear’ with powerful hands and impressive technique.
It’s easy to drool about what a Colts’ starting left to center offensive line of Williams, 3x All-Pro left guard Quenton Nelson, and All-Pro center Ryan Kelly could accomplish in run blocking (as running back Jonathan Taylor just might rush for over 2,000 yards)—while Indianapolis’ next starting quarterback may never get hit passing in the pocket ever again (when also factoring in rising star right tackle Braden Smith and rock solid right guard Mark Glowinski rounding out the unit).
Williams’ big-time addition would make the Colts hands down the NFL’s best offensive line and collectively, a downright dominant unit overall. An even all-time great unit as a whole.
Let’s not forget that Colts general manager Chris Ballard once said in his inaugural press conference as the new head football man in Indianapolis back in 2017:
“Look, in this league you win upfront. You win on the o-line, d-line, and if you’re not good upfront, it’s very difficult when you get into December football. December, January football.”
Winning in the trenches.
The Colts added one former All-Pro from the 49ers last offseason: defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. Perhaps Indianapolis would go to the well once more with Williams—after having had such great results the first go around with D-Fo.
Williams’ addition bodes well for a rookie quarterback too (which signing Williams makes the most sense both from a developmental standpoint and salary cap-wise going forward).
NFL teams have to protect their young franchise quarterbacks.
We saw what happened with David Carr.
We saw what happened with Andrew Luck.
Heck, we recently just saw this past season what happened with Joe Burrow.
Having both a starting rookie quarterback and rookie left tackle isn’t ideal for short-term success, so having an All-Pro caliber ‘plug-and-play’ bookend like Williams could ease any rookie passer’s transition into the pro ranks (putting them in a position to succeed and not get killed back there)—while also shockingly upgrading the Colts offensive line from this past season in the process (which initially didn’t even seem possible).
It would take a well-rounded, ‘built to win’ Colts roster and somehow make it even stronger at starting left tackle.
Signing Williams while also adding a veteran starting quarterback would be nice in theory too, but it doesn’t seem quite as feasible salary cap wise going forward.
However, signing Williams while pairing him with a top rookie passer?
Well, the Colts could very well have something special there in tandem.