By his own admission, Trent Williams saw Ron Rivera’s hiring as a “glimpse of hope.”
After spending months feuding with the franchise that drafted him, Williams had the chance to accept a fresh start with a new coach. Washington had fired team president Bruce Allen, the man who Williams clashed with, and made a slew of other changes to the medical staff.
But when the left tackle met with Rivera, he realized that the pairing wouldn’t work out. Rivera, unwilling to make any contract concessions, wanted Williams to prove himself under a new regime. Williams, a seven-time Pro Bowler, said he felt he was too accomplished to have to do that.
“We were just on two different pages,” Williams said Thursday.
Unable to reach an agreement, Williams reiterated his trade demand and eventually Washington obliged — sending to the San Francisco 49ers, the team that Washington will face Sunday in Glendale, Arizona.
Speaking to reporters, Williams, wearing a 49ers hat, said he holds no ill will against his former team. He later added that he and Rivera just “didn’t sync up,” but said he has nothing but respect for the coach. He said he even roots for his former teammates when they play.
“To me, I’m not going to sit here and hold grudges for no reason,” Williams said. “The people who I had an issue with, I don’t think they’re here. I know they’re not there. The people who helped instigate that situation are no longer part of the organization.
“I’m not going to sit here and just carry some grudge because people expect me to carry it.”
Williams didn’t use Allen’s name directly, but it was obvious that’s who he was referencing.
Before Williams’ eventual exit in April, Washington and Williams went through a long, often messy, battle that played out publicly. After Williams held out in training camp, reports emerged that the seven-time Pro Bowler vowed to “never” play for the franchise ever again.
When Williams returned in October of 2019, he revealed the dispute was largely due to his unhappiness with the team’s medical staff and front office over how they handled a cancer diagnosis. He said he no longer trusted the franchise.
The saga got uglier from there: Washington failed to medically clear Williams and ended his season. In the offseason, Williams’ agent pushed for a trade and took shots at the franchise through the press. A deal to Minnesota reportedly fell through on draft night.
But Washington soon found a suitor in San Francisco: The team received a fifth-round pick and a 2021 third-round pick.
Washington knew replacing a player many saw as the most talented on the roster wouldn’t be easy.
Veteran Donald Penn was asked to fill in for a disgruntled Williams last season and according to Pro Football Focus, he gave up six sacks in 2019 — more than Williams did over his last three seasons combined.
This season’s been better. Fourth-rounder Saahdiq Charles, Williams’ intended replacement, is hurt and hasn’t played a snap at left tackle, but the team has survived with Geron Christian, Cornelius Lucas and even right tackle Morgan Moses at the position. Lucas, a journeyman who is the current starter, hasn’t surrendered a sack in his four starts.
“It’s a highly skilled position,” offensive coordinator Scott Turner said. “You’ve got to really block the best players in the league consistently every week. … All of them have done well. They’ve all battled.”
As much as Washington might be satisfied with the production at left tackle, the 49ers are more than glad to have Williams — who has been one of the league’s best.
Though he’s surrendered four sacks, Williams is rated behind only Green Bay’s David Bakhtiari as the Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded tackle. 49ers running back Raheem Mostert called Williams a “great leader,” adding that the 31-year-old has seamlessly helped San Francisco overcome Joe Staley’s retirement.
Williams, of course, is familiar with the system. 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan was Williams’ offensive coordinator for four seasons in Washington, having drafted Williams in 2010. He also reunited with former teammates in Tom Compton and tight end Jordan Reed.
“He came in so hungry and excited to play football,” Shanahan said. “One thing about Trent, everybody knows his talent, but Trent enjoys playing football. He’s fitting in great here. The guys respect the (heck) out of him.”
On Thursday, Williams was asked what he thinks his legacy with Washington will be — and what he wants it to be. It depends, he said, on who you ask. Williams said there will be fans who fondly remember his nine years, while there will be others who will say he “betrayed the team.”
Williams, though, said he wants to be remembered as a good teammate who played productive football. He understands that with Washington, he was an obvious candidate to one day be included in the team’s Ring of Fame.
The latter, he admitted, was a goal of his. But now, he’s uncertain if it’ll ever happen.
“If they feel like I deserve it, I’ll be there,” Williams said. “If not, then I won’t (be upset). … I ain’t leave with any animosity toward anybody or anyone in the organization. I still watch the Washington Redskins — I mean the Football Team every chance I get.”
As Williams corrected himself, he smiled. The team name, like his history with the franchise, is now a thing of the past.
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