CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Browns explored a trade for Redskins left tackle Trent Williams when he was first granted permission to seek a trade in early March, and it’s remained an option ever since.
As they head into Thursday night’s NFL draft, they’ll keep Williams in mind as the heir apparent to Joe Thomas, and possibly revisit a trade depending on how the top 10 picks shake out. The Browns have studied and interviewed the top tackles, including Andrew Thomas, Jedrick Wills Jr., Mekhi Becton and Tristan Wirfs, and could land their man at No. 10. They could also trade up or back, depending on who’s coming off the board.
But they could also opt for a proven, seven-time Pro Bowler instead of an unproven rookie who might not be able to step in and man the position right away.
Here are seven reasons the Browns should try to trade for the former No. 4 pick out of Oklahoma:
1. They’d be getting the closest thing to Joe Thomas
It’s not easy to step in and try to replace a future first ballot Hall of Famer, but if anyone can do it, Williams can. He’s made the Pro Bowl seven straight seasons and will be in the Hall of Fame conversation with a few more. He’s one of the premier left tackles in the NFL, and Baker Mayfield’s blindside would be locked down for years to come.
He’ll be 32 in July, and still probably has multiple Pro Bowl years in him. Besides, it’s extremely difficult to project that position in the NFL. Former Browns left tackle Greg Robinson was nearly a can’t-miss prospect when the Rams drafted him No. 2 in 2014, and he didn’t pan out. His NFL.com scouting report read “big, strong, athletic, overpowering left tackle with the raw potential to become a premiere, franchise left tackle. Is only a third-year sophomore and two-year starter and still must improve his hand use, footwork and technique. However, he is undeniably gifted and capable of walking into a starting-left-tackle job in the pros.”
In Williams, the Browns know what they’re getting.
2. Browns OL coach Bill Callahan knows and likes him
The Browns have all the inside intel they need on Williams from new offensive line coach Bill Callahan, his position coach for four seasons in Washington. Williams, 31, made the Pro Bowl all four seasons Callahan coached him from 2015-18, and likely would’ve made it again last year had he not held out in a medical dispute over the cancerous growth on his head. Callahan and Williams have always had a great relationship, and last year’s holdout did nothing to change that.
“I have nothing, but the utmost respect for Trent and the situation he went through,” Callahan told reporters last season. “I’ve always loved the guy, I loved coaching him, he meant a lot to me and my career, and I wish him well and hopefully something will all work out in the end.”
Williams’ beef was mostly with the front office and medical staff, and not the coaches or players, who love and respect him, sources say.
3. The trade compensation might be reasonable
The Redskins were looking for a second-round pick last month, according to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo, but Williams’ agent, Vince Taylor, told Garafolo that the Redskins weren’t negotiating in good faith. If they’re willing to do so on draft weekend, the Browns could probably pull off a deal.
They have the No. 41 pick in the second round, and the No. 74 and No. 97 picks in the third. They also have the No. 115 pick in the fourth round. Sources told NBC Sports Washington that the Redskins want second-round value for Williams, but it can come in the form of draft value that adds up to a second-rounder. The Browns’ two third-rounders would accomplish that. Former Redskins GM Scot McCloughan, in a Monday radio interview, said he’d try to hold out for a first-rounder, but proposed a No. 2 and a No. 4 that would improve to a third.
The Browns don’t want to give up No. 10, but might be willing to trade some combination of picks or players short of that to make this happen.
4. The leadership is invaluable
GM Andrew Berry and coach Kevin Stefanski are trying to change the Browns culture, and Williams would bring a ton of veteran leadership and a strong locker-room presence. Players listen to veterans who’ve been to multiple Pro Bowls and could be on their way to the Hall of Fame. The Browns’ locker room was splintered last season and lacked strong, positive leadership on both sides of the ball. They haven’t had a commanding presence since Joe Thomas retired, and Williams would fill that void.
McCloughan likened it Monday to when the Packers signed free agent Reggie White in 1993, who, like Williams, was 31 and a seven-time Pro Bowler at the time. White made six more Pro Bowls in Green Bay and helped the Packers win the Super Bowl in 1997.
“Everybody was like ‘well he’s old, he’s kind of done,’’’ McCloughan said. “Naw, he changed that from a really good team to a great team because of his presence in the locker room.’’
5. He’s healthy
A source told cleveland.com that Williams is healthy after having a cancerous growth removed from his head in June, the last of three procedures. Williams told reporters in October that “I almost lost my life,’’ but teams are confident that Williams is cancer-free and that a recurrence is not anticipated. Of course, club can’t conduct their own physicals amid the coronavirus pandemic, but the Browns could execute a trade pending a physical.
6. A Williams trade could facilitate a move down from No. 10
Plenty of teams are looking to trade up in this draft, and if the Browns swing a deal for Williams, they can trade down from No. 10 and pick up extra capital which can either be used to acquire Williams or other players. They could even draft an offensive tackle in this scenario. A trade for Williams would give them plenty of options at No. 10, including the chance to land another high pick. They could also stand pat and select a defensive player such as hybrid linebacker Isaiah Simmons or defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw.
7. They could swing it financially
Williams, due a base salary of $12.5 million in 2020, would likely want a big contract extension worth upwards of $15 million a year, but the Browns can afford it. They lead the NFL with more than $38 million in cap space heading into the draft, and are willing to spend money to protect Baker Mayfield, as evidenced by new right tackle Jack Conklin’s three-year worth $14 million a year. They do have some huge paydays coming up for Myles Garrett and Mayfield and have a lot of money tied up in the offensive line, but great left tackles are worth every penny they get.
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