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While ‘Talking Heads’ Connect LT Trent Williams to Colts, Signing Him Doesn’t Make Sense Salary Cap Wise

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NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

A number of national ‘talking heads’ continue to try to connect San Francisco 49ers’ All-Pro free agent left tackle Trent Williams to the blindside needy Indianapolis Colts this early offseason:

(As a disclaimer, I did too, but that was before the Colts acquired Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz and his 2021 cap hit of $25.4M—as signing Williams made more sense in combination with Indianapolis theoretically trading up for a top rookie quarterback on a cheaper contract [not adding a high priced veteran into the fold]).

While no one’s disputing that an already strong Colts offensive line adding Williams to a left side that features fellow All-Pro, offensive guard Quenton Nelson, would be utterly dominant (and make for an all-time historically great unit), it doesn’t seem feasible salary cap-wise—unless Williams is willing to sign a short-term deal (which seems highly unlikely given his anticipated hot free agent market).

After the Carson Wentz trade is formally complete at the start of the league’s new year, the Colts will have a projected $44.7 million of available cap space to work with this offseason.

At first glance, that’s more than enough to safely sign Williams; however, it fails to take into account that the Colts have two key core players: linebacker Darius Leonard and offensive tackle Braden Smith due for lucrative multi-year extensions after the 2021 season, and Nelson joining them an offseason later (after the completion of his 5th-year option).

Not to mention, running back Nyheim Hines is also a free agent following the 2021 season.

Yes, the Colts still have some salary cap room at their disposal to play around with this offseason, but the $44.7M number is a bit misleading because the team still has to save some of that money or at least allocate it strictly short-term to maintain future salary cap flexibility to retain its top homegrown talent going forward.

When considering the salary cap that will be tied up into the offensive line (Kelly’s contract along with Smith and Nelson’s future mega-deals)—and with a deep offensive tackle rookie class to potentially choose from, it makes more sense for the Colts to simply select a top offensive tackle prospect early on in this April NFL’s draft (being on a much cheaper rookie contract for the foreseeable future) than splurge big to bring in Williams.

The team could then allocate that salary cap space elsewhere to better balance the roster and address other significant needs.

Now, if the 32 year old veteran Williams were to be agreeable to a 1-2 year reasonable deal with the Colts, then by all means, Indianapolis should sign him to replace the sizable void left by longtime veteran bookend Anthony Castonzo— who retired earlier this offseason.

However, given that many elite left tackles have aged gracefully into their mid-30’s, such as the Los Angeles Rams Andrew Whitworth, Seattle Seahawks Duane Brown, and Philadelphia Eagles Jason Peters, and Williams should be able to safely secure at least a 3-4 year lucrative deal in his upcoming free agency.

For what it’s worth, Spotrac projects him to receive roughly a 3-year, $60M deal, while PFF predicted him receiving a 4-year, $80M deal ($62.5M guaranteed) from the 49ers.

Perhaps a reduced 2021 NFL salary cap, and a ‘flukey’ offseason following COVID-19 impacted league-wide revenue shortfalls could change matters entirely though.

Let’s be clear here too.

There’s no doubt that Williams is great and should be going forward.

He’d be an elite addition—as a veteran ‘plug-and-play’ blindside All-Pro anchor to an already collectively stout Colts offensive line.

By signing Williams, the Colts would actually have gotten somehow better at left tackle this offseason—as he was PFF’s highest graded offensive tackle this past season.

However, signing Williams to a lucrative, multi-year ‘mega-deal’ simply doesn’t make much sense for the Colts’ future salary cap flexibility going forward—which they’re going to need to maintain to retain their ‘cream of the crop’, top homegrown talent imminently.