When the Cincinnati Bengals signed Orlando Brown Jr., they found their new franchise left tackle for the next four years. That position was manned for the previous three years by Jonah Williams, who the team selected out of Alabama in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft.
After missing his rookie season with a torn labrum, Williams started 42 games at left tackle, though he missed most of last season’s playoffs after injuring his knee early in the Wild Card win over the Baltimore Ravens.
Shortly after the news of the Brown Jr. signing, Williams requested a trade. This could be because, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Kelsey Conway, the Bengals didn’t let Williams know they were signing a new left tackle or that they expected him to make the move to right tackle.
New on the Jonah Williams trade request:— Kelsey Conway (@KelseyLConway) March 29, 2023
The #Bengals didn’t communicate with Jonah before they were planning to sign Orlando Brown. He was blindsided. The team didn’t tell him ahead of time they were thinking of moving him to RT, a source close to the situation tells me
Now, Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn has released a statement to Bengals.com’s Geoff Hobson about Williams’ trade request.
“I’m not sure he said he doesn’t want to be with the team,” Blackburn said of Williams’ trade request. “These things happen. We’re going to try and get our best team out there. We hear his concerns, but at the end of the day we’ll just have to see where it all plays out and if he’s here we’re going to get our five best guys out there.
“We’ve obviously looked at our offensive line the last couple of years and really tried to strengthen it and I think we’ve done a great job with that. So we’ve got some good options.”
While it’s fair for Williams to say he was blindsided, that doesn’t mean the Bengals are the “bad guys” here. The NFL is a business, and it seems the Bengals’ deal with Brown Jr. came together quickly and unexpectedly. They likely didn’t have time to talk to Williams before they got the deal pieced together.
In a perfect world, it would have been nice if they were able to discuss his feelings on being replaced and moving to the opposite side of the line, but the NFL is a business and the front office can’t place a player’s feelings over the needs of the team. Players are cut and traded all the time against their will in the NFL.
Williams struggled in 2022, giving up 13 sacks and earning a Pro Football Focus pass-blocking grade of 62.8 on the season. Run blocking was worse, as his grade was 51. As he is playing on the fifth year of his rookie contract, there was a better than decent chance the Bengals replaced him early in the draft had they not signed Brown Jr., or with a different offensive tackle in free agency, especially if Williams struggled again in 2023.
The need to move on from Williams at left tackle is also evident by the lack of interest coming from other teams. It’s not often that a left tackle with over 40 career starts, who is also only 25 years old, comes available. If teams thought he was worth even a Day 2 draft pick, he may have already been moved. This may change as the draft approaches and the free agency pool dries up, which is already beginning to happen, but as of right now, it looks like Williams is going to be on the team still by the time Week 1 rolls around.
Brown Jr. joined Anthony and John on the Orange and Black Insider last week and discussed the difficulty of switching from one side to the other as an offensive lineman.
“Man, there are so man different analogies, and you hear guys talk about it being like throwing a baseball with the opposite hand,” he said. “I don’t know if anyone has ever been in a real fight, but asking someone to fight in an opposite stance—it’s a super-uncomfortable feeling. From figuring out the timing of your punch, being able to step back on your jab—whatever it may be, your nervous system, the way you’re wired—it’s different.”
This could be another reason Williams has requested a trade. There’s really no way of knowing if he’ll be good at right tackle. If he is, and then he leaves in free agency, he still likely won’t get the same amount of money a top-tier free agent left tackle would get, as that is the more coveted position.
If Williams struggles at right tackle, he could find himself struggling to land a contract at all.
Williams being upset is an unfortunate side effect of the business of football. It isn’t the first time a player was blindsided and requested a trade. It won’t be the last either.