The Patriots traded offensive tackle Grant Williams to the St. Louis Rams Monday for an undisclosed draft pick.
The 6-7, 320-pound Williams was acquired by the Patriots as a free agent from Seattle before the 2000 season and started eight games at right tackle for New England.
Last season, he played in 14 games and started four, but also relieved an injured Matt Light at left tackle in the Super Bowl, where he performed well under the circumstances.
In his six-year career, Williams has started 35 of 85 games, shuffling between right and left tackle. His ability to easily transition between the two seemingly gave him value to Bill Belichick, who often talks about position flexibility and experience -- two qualities Williams posesses.
But with several young offensive linemen in camp pressing for jobs, Williams obviously became expendable.
The Patriots now have five players in camp capable of playing tackle -- Kenyatta Jones, Matt Light, Greg Robinson-Randall, Adrian Klemm and Tom Ashworth. Robinson-Randall is the only member of that group who seems to be tied to one position (right tackle) while the others offer flexibility that includes either tackle spot and even guard, where Klemm has been playing in camp this year.
Jones started training camp playing left tackle, but was quickly switched to the right side upon Light's return from shoulder surgery. Light has only played the left side, but started training camp in 2001 at right tackle before moving to the left side when Klemm suffered an elbow injury.
Ashworth is an intriguing prospects in Williams' mold. He is a younger version of Williams as a swing tackle. He was a member of the Patriots practice squad last year and has been used on both sides during camp. He is slightly cheaper than Williams, who had a cap figure of around $500,000 after re-signing with the team as a free agent back in April. Ashworth could be pressing Robinson-Randall for the last tackle job.
Robinson-Randall started all 19 games at right tackle for the Patriots in 2001 but hasn't progressed as expected and has found himself playing with the second unit throughout training camp after getting off on the wrong foot by failing his pre-traiining camp conditioning test.
Like Robinson-Randall, Antowain Smith failed his camp conditioning test before passing on his second attempt, but quickly moved back into his role as the No. 1 running back. Robinson-Randall's presence on the second unit is a clear indication that the coaches are looking for more from him. This will be a hotly contested position battle over the next couple of weeks.
Williams, while not a lock to make the team, certainly figured to hold his spot. His trade for an undisclosed draft pick may indicate that the Patriots didn't feel he would make the final roster.
The undisclosed draft pick attained in the deal is probably a conditional draft pick that includes certain play-time clauses that determine in which round the pick will fall. While the details are not known, it's a safe bet that the pick will fall on Day Two of the draft or somwhere in rounds 4-7.
Williams, originally signed by Seattle in 1996 as a free agent out of Louisiana Tech, will provide the Rams with needed depth at tackle, a position that has hurt them in the past, including in the Super Bowl when right tackle Rod Jones blew a blocking assignment that led to Ty Law's interception return for a touchdown.
Williams will be missed in the locker room as much if not more than on the field. When Belichick arrived in January of 2000, het set out to add character to the roster and the high-character Williams met that criteria.
The Patriots under Belichick have dealt with the Rams in the past. Two years ago, the Patriots sent a sixth-round pick to St. Louis for wide receiver Dane Looker. Special teamer Koli Ayi jumped between clubs this past year, but won a Super Bowl ring with New England.