The panic alarms are going off for the Cleveland Browns after a 31-3 thrashing at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers on Monday Night Football. There are many different issues with the team, but a large portion of the fanbase and national media is pointing to the offensive line as the root problem. That’s not exactly true, but the o-line isn’t great either. It would certainly help matters to have a proven stud protecting Baker Mayfield‘s blindside, which is why the Browns have been linked to Washington Redskins left tackle, Trent Williams, ever since his holdout began. But is trading for Williams a good idea, and if it is, how much should Cleveland be willing to part with?
Should the Cleveland Browns trade for Trent Williams?
First, we need to take a look at the current status of the Browns offense. They rank 22nd in the league in yards per game with 340.2. Not a terrible number, but still incredibly disappointing given the amount of talent on the offense. They are 20th in passing, 16th in rushing, and 25th in scoring.
According to Pro Football Focus, Cleveland has a 67.2 overall grade, which is the worst out of all teams with a win. Here are some of their other PFF ranks:
Offense: 70.7 (17th)
Passing: 73.0 (12th)
Pass block: 66.5 (19th)
Running: 73.7 (13th)
Run block: 64.3 (8th)
The Browns also rank seventh in the NFL in pass block win rate at 61 percent. The offensive line has been fine, with the exception of the San Francisco game. The bigger issue has been Mayfield, who is responsible for many of the hits he’s taken this season. He’s holding onto the ball for too long and bailing from solid pockets because he’s paranoid of getting hit. He isn’t seeing the field well and is not diagnosing defenses. He’s guessing coverages pre-snap and then is stunned when the coverage is different from what he expected. He’s missing open receivers all over the field, and is holding back the Cleveland offense as a whole.
Nothing will change until Mayfield learns to be more comfortable in the pocket and gets right mentally. But that doesn’t mean that general manager John Dorsey can’t do anything to help out his young signal-caller. It’s possible that Mayfield really, really misses guard Kevin Zeitler, who was traded to the New York Giants for defensive end Olivier Vernon. Zeitler’s replacement, Eric Kush is PFF’s 79th-ranked guard in terms of pass blocking, has given up 14 hurries and 14 pressures, which rank him in the bottom five and bottom 10 in the NFL in those categories. The Browns traded for former Buffalo Bill Wyatt Teller during the preseason, and there is a chance that he could replace Kush in the starting lineup at some point.
But the best offensive lineman on the trade market isn’t a guard, he’s a left tackle. Washington’s Trent Williams has been one of the NFL’s very best tackles since 2013, and his tenure with the Redskins appears to be all but over.
He’s held out of all team activities, going back to before mandatory minicamp. But his holdout isn’t related to his contract; he no longer trusts the medical staff after the way the team treated a growth on his head last season. Williams has given up $5.5 million to this point, and if he hasn’t returned to the team by Week 10, he’ll not earn credit towards free agency for 2019.
Good for Williams not caving to team pressure and standing his ground, even at a significant monetary loss.
Team president Bruce Allen reportedly told Williams that Washington would not be trading him until after the season. That would mean his contract tolls and would extend through the 2021 season, instead of expiring after 2020.
If Williams is truly serious about never playing for the Redskins again, it doesn’t really make sense for the team to be adamant about waiting to trade him. If a deal they like manifests itself, they should take it, whether it’s after the season, or before the trade deadline on October 29th.
But could (or should) the Browns make Washington an offer they really like? The answer is complicated.
Greg Robinson is Cleveland’s current left tackle. He has a 69.3 overall grade (25th), along with a 64.6 pass block mark (59th). He’s still the same player he’s always been; a physical freak with all the natural talent in the world, but who hasn’t been able to put it all together, even under the tutelage of one of the NFL’s best offensive line coaches in James Campen.
Robinson may not be the weakest link on the line, but he’s far from irreplaceable. And replacing him with Williams would be a massive upgrade, right? Well, that’s complicated too.
Williams does have an extensive injury history. He’s missed a total of 24 games in his nine seasons and hasn’t played a full 16 games since 2013. The best ability is availability, and trading for Williams won’t do the Browns any good if he isn’t available when they need him, against teams with fronts like San Fran’s.
He’s been a Pro Bowler every year since 2012. His pass-block grade hasn’t been below a 77.9 since his rookie season. He’s a bonafide franchise left tackle that would instantly make any line significantly better. In 2018, he had his worst season since 2010, but was still fantastic, grading out at 74.0 overall, 80.7 pass block, and 66.9 run block.
But is he worth trading for? He has two (1.5) years and a little over $18 million remaining on his contract, which is a bargain for how good he is. But he’ll want a raise after that, and he is 31, again with an injury history. The Browns are paying Robinson $6.4 million this season. On the field, Williams is absolutely worth the difference in money. However, that’s not the only variable that must be taken into account when making this decision.
The Browns need to answer these questions first; is Williams a long-term solution at left tackle? Will one player, even one of Williams’ caliber, be the difference between just making the playoffs and advancing deep into the postseason? Is Williams worth passing up on the chance to draft one of the many excellent offensive tackle prospects in the 2020 NFL Draft, along with other picks that would be used to add depth to the rest of the team?
Assuming no serious injuries (and that’s a pretty big assumption), Williams should be able to play at a high level for at least three more years. That’s not exactly long-term, but it does coincide with Cleveland’s projected championship window, which is primarily the years before players like Myles Garrett, Baker Mayfield, and Denzel Ward begin playing on new contracts.
Adding Williams to the line doesn’t make Kush a better individual player, and it doesn’t help Mayfield read the defense any better. It may give him more time in the pocket, but that extra time isn’t useful if the quarterback is unable to take advantage of it.
The opportunity cost is the biggest roadblock to a Williams trade. Even if the Browns aren’t picking high enough to land Georgia’s Andrew Thomas or Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs, there are still plenty of other potential instant starters at offensive tackle in the class, including Alabama’s Alex Leatherwood, Stanford’s Walker Little, and TCU’s Lucas Niang. Cleveland could possibly find long-term solutions to both tackle spots in the first two rounds, and those players could be with the team for at least twice as long as Williams, in addition to being significantly cheaper.
But draft picks are never guaranteed. Williams, barring injury, is a proven elite player, and that’s worth a lot. And the cost to trade for him is the main question here.
If the Browns feel like they have a real chance to win a Super Bowl within the next three years, then making a move for Williams does make sense, even if it’s at the cost of significant draft capital. But if they feel like left tackle isn’t the only position that needs to be addressed (and it most certainly is not), then giving up valuable picks for a veteran on the wrong side of 30 may not be the smartest idea. Cleveland has sacrificed too much following a plan to become a sustainable contender to go all-in like this.
The Odell Beckham Jr. trade was different because the cost was lower than what the Redskins are likely to demand for Williams, and Beckham is a premier playmaker in the early prime of his career, as well as under team control through 2023.
If the Browns can get Williams for a second-round pick, then absolutely, go for it. But he’s going to cost a first-rounder and then some. It would be better to let another team pay that price, and for the Browns to continue building through the draft.