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Don’t hold your breath for a Trent Williams trade to the Patriots

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The math simply isn’t there, but that rarely gets in the way of a good story.

Indianapolis Colts v Washington Redskins Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

On Wednesday afternoon, Twitter ran wild with a report from The Athletic's Jeff Howe regarding the status of Trent Williams’s availability via trade. Here’s the tweet, which was later used in his article:

Note the careful word choice there. I have no doubt that Howe’s source feels the Patriots could be involved. A simple glance at their depth chart should tell you they’d have interest in a seven-time All-Pro left tackle. But in reality, only a handful of teams shouldn’t be looking at their roster and cap situation wondering how they could get a deal done for Williams. If Howe’s source had knowledge that the Patriots were actually involved in trade talks, that’s how it would’ve been printed.

In fact, we know that when a popular player is on the trade market, or a high profile player hits the free agent market, New England is often rumored to be sniffing around — see: Odell Beckham Jr., Gerald McCoy, and Mike Daniels. Whether true or untrue, publicly hinting that the Patriots are involved in your situation has become the best vehicle for agents and GMs to illicit ‘FOMO’ in their colleagues around the NFL.

Regardless, it’s easy to see why Patriots fans would be excited to see their team linked to a player like Trent Williams. The depth at tackle is noticeably thin at the moment, with Isaiah Wynn being brought back slowly from last summer’s torn Achilles, rookie Yodny Cajuste still on the NFI list from offseason quad surgery, and Joe Thuney taking reps at left tackle all summer with Dan Skipper backing him up.

Unfortunately, this is part where I point out that the math simply doesn’t work. I know, the ‘wet blanket’ salary cap guy — I get it. But, the “cap is crap” sentiment that “they can always move things around if they really wanted to make a move work” still persists in the minds of some. So let’s put that to the test.

Some important numbers to keep in mind:

  • Patriots current 2019 cap space figure: $7,490,353 — includes Marcus Cannon’s recent restructure
  • Trent Williams’ 2019 cap hit, if acquired via trade: $11.25 million
  • Amount needed for in-season expenditures: $4-6 million

Last season, the Patriots had $5,679,531 in cap space on September 6th. That number got down to $1,269,693 by October 2nd. Desperate for some breathing room, they converted $4.95 million of Stephon Gilmore’s salary to a bonus on October 20th to create $3,712,500 worth of space. They finished 2018 with $3,173,423, which they rolled over to this season.

The Patriots had very good injury luck in 2018, yet they still used around $6.6 million during the season. Why? Because they constantly churn the roster, they had over $9 million attributed to players on IR and NFI, they pay their practice squad players better than another other organization in the league, and because players like Don’ta Hightower, Julian Edelman, and Marcus Cannon all played far more games last year than they did in 2017 — meaning they earned a ton of their NLTBE per-game bonuses, which hit the cap right away when earned.

The point is this: knowing you’ve got to have, at the very least, $4 million in the coffers to get through the season, were is the money going to come from to bring in Trent Williams? Some popular theories:

A Tom Brady Extension

It’s a nice thought, but that’s quickly becoming less of a reality. The odd timing of this week’s Marcus Cannon restructure could be a signal that even if the two sides are close to an agreement, Brady’s extension won’t provide the salary cap space many were hoping for due to contract value and/or structure. However, if I placate the notion that somehow his eventual extension will create cap space, it’s not likely to be more than $4-5 million. If I continue this placation, and throw that full $5 million on top of the Patriots’ current cap space number prior to Williams’s arrival, it would still leave the Patriots with just $1,240,353 in 2019 cap space.

Throw a player into the deal

Of all the contracts on the Patriots’ cap sheet not belonging to Tom Brady, Devin McCourty’s has the highest ability to create cap space if traded. However, if he was dealt in a deal for Williams — ignoring the fact that Washington just gave Landon Collins a six-year, $84 million contract and wouldn’t have much interest in a safety due to earn $9.5 million in 2019 cash — the Patriots would be left with just $1,805,353 in 2019 cap space. Not to mention they would’ve traded away a critical component of their defense and a locker room leader.

Want to trade Dont’a Hightower for Williams? Go for it. But you’d have to open up more cap space first, because that deal would put the Patriots at -$314,334, and wouldn’t be approved by the league office, let alone leave breathing room below the cap for the regular season.

Give Williams an extension prior to the trade

Sure. They could do that. But Williams is going to want to become the highest paid lineman in NFL history — eclipsing Trent Brown’s $16.5 million APY deal signed in March. After watching their left tackles of the past two seasons walk for mega-deals, and spending a first round draft pick on a future left tackle, what evidence is there that New England would then turn around and make Williams — who just turned 31-years-old — the highest paid lineman in the game?


Lost in all of this is the fact that Isaiah Wynn is progressing. Slowly, sure, but that’s the plan — and it’s a wise one. He’s not on the PUP list, and it’s the first day of August, so why rush him back to full speed? There is still time.

Again, I’m sorry guys. I know how fun Trent Williams on the Patriots would be. But the math simply isn't there. So the next time you come across a member of the ‘cap is crap’ contingent, ask them about the Patriots acquiring Trent Williams.

Follow Brian Phillips on Twitter — @BPhillips_SB