For us, the San Francisco 49ers acquisition of left tackle Trent Williams happened in a blink of an eye. Friday evening, a report came out saying that one NFC team was interested in Williams. About 16 hours later, Williams was a 49er. How did all of this come together? What obstacles stood in the way? General manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan discussed the trade process.
I was hoping you guys could go over the timeline of when Joe informed you of his decision? When did T Trent Williams come into the equation? When you were at number 13, there was an offensive tackle there available in Tampa Bay Buccaneers OT Tristan Wirfs from Iowa. Did you know at that point, and how did it all go down?
JL: “We did. I’m trying to think exact days These all kind of run together, but when I spoke to you all, I had talked to Joe’s agent and representation Ryan Tollner. I talked with him when Joe was still in the midst of making a decision. They had indicated Joe was really struggling. Where we were encouraged, was that we felt like time was on his side with no offseason program, the opportunity to get further away from a season and have that body heal. After I spoke, and I don’t know if it was the impetus, Joe will have to tell you. What I had told Ryan Tollner is, ‘Listen, at some point, Joe needs to get on the phone with us and tell us where he’s at,’ and Joe did that shortly after I talked to you all. Joe called Kyle and kind of informed him, and I think Kyle can speak more to it, but I think what Kyle will tell you is we’re going to let Joe speak for himself as to why he chose. But, we both respect entirely Joe’s decision. We appreciate that before the Draft, he let us know so that we could act on Trent Williams, but yes, at 13 when we ultimately picked at 14, we did know of Joe’s decision at that point.”KS: “For me, we were all hoping Joe would come back, and after talking with him, we know he wants to play, and he loves football, but we knew he had to make a decision that was going to take some time. A couple of days right before the Draft, when you talk about it, knowing the tackles that could have been there available at 13, having someone available like Trent, we wanted to make sure with Joe. We thought he was going to come back, and we were holding out hope, but we knew it was real early with the decision. When I called him up a couple of days before the Draft and just asked him if he had any idea where he was at and Joe was very confident where he was at, and you could tell that he wanted to retire. It was very cool of Joe to be that honest with us before the Draft because that allowed John and I to really think about it and see if any of those tackles were going to become available. But, that wasn’t totally in the plans, so we wanted to go a different direction because we were hoping Joe would be around here for the next couple of years. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. So, it’s really cool we were able to pull off what we did just so we could go a different direction in the Draft, and we could get guys like [DT Javon] Kinlaw and [WR Brandon] Aiyuk because it’s a big hole, missing Joe. He’s as good of a player as we’ve been around, and we felt fortunate to just end up how we did in the situation we’re at.”
How seriously did you guys consider Wirfs when the deal for Trent Williams wasn’t in place yet? Obviously, Kyle, you know the history of Washington and maybe the complications, for lack of a better word, and perhaps Washington being reluctant to send a quality player your way?
KS: “You’re always nervous and especially with what we found out with Joe a couple of days before and not knowing if that will go through because if that’s the case, you’re passing on some pretty good players there at 13. But, we had a plan for a while going into this. You try your hardest not to panic and adjust that plan, but when you lose a guy like Joe, there is a huge panic there. We couldn’t guarantee it was going to work out with Washington, but John was as persistent as he could be with it, and we took that risk. That’s why we were very excited this morning when it came through because we were able to add those other guys. We didn’t have to go in a direction that we didn’t plan. We went in a direction that we kind of planned since the beginning, and when it was said and done, the deal did work. John got it done, and I think it was a good gamble that worked out well.”JL: “We’re sitting there on the clock, that was tough because I had been talking to [Washington Redskins head coach] Ron Rivera and having really good talks, but they were getting a lot of interest on Trent. Every time it felt like we were at a point where we’d have it finish, he’d say, ‘Let’s wait till tomorrow.’ That was frustrating, but we were willing to take that chance to be able to add a guy like Kinlaw, to be able to add Aiyuk and then to also go on and maneuver with the things we did today. We think we came out of this with a better football team and that’s really exciting because we were very happy where we were. We knew it would be a challenge to do that, but I think everything fell into place. We believe we have an opportunity to be a better football team, and that’s very exciting for us.”
KS: “One thing that was really cool was if the Washington deal didn’t go through, one of our Plan Bs was to try to draft [OL] Colton [McKivitz] there in the fourth round and then we made that risk to move that to go up and get the receiver we wanted. Then we did end up getting Trent, and to still be able to get him (McKivitz) in the fifth round was a hell of a deal. We felt really excited about how today went.”
With all those pieces in play, how much more difficult is it to set your Draft board when you don’t know whether it is going to go through or not? It seems like a very unique situation to be in.
JL: “Well, you have a Draft board set, and you have to assume some risk. Tristan Wirfs is a player we were extremely fond of. He’s an unbelievable athlete. He’s an unbelievable player, well-schooled from Iowa. So, there were so many attributes that we thought extremely highly of along with the rest of the offensive tackle class. Of course, that’s difficult, but what you do is you set your board, you assess value to everyone, and then you take a hard look of where do we feel we could most help our team and for us that was keeping, as we already talked about the other day. I think one of the most tangible reasons we were in a Super Bowl last year was because when we were right when we were healthy, we overwhelmed people from a defensive line perspective. We lost an exceptional player in [Indianapolis Colts DL] DeForest Buckner, and we felt like we had had an opportunity to fill that void, and we felt like even though we were assuming some risk without the Trent Williams thing being done, that was a risk we were willing to take. Thank God we stayed persistent on that, and Washington came around, and I think now we’re feeling very good about the direction we went.”
Obviously, you’re very familiar with Trent, and I’m just curious how you see him fitting here, what kind of contact you’ve had with him, and also what the long-term plan is with him in terms of getting him signed to an extension.
KS: “Yeah, I mean, we were in Washington when we drafted Trent. Skillset wise, Trent is similar to Joe. I mean, they’re two of the most athletic guys that I have ever been around at that position, and they can run and are great for our scheme. He’s a great dude, too. I love the guy, and I was able to talk to him today for the first time in a while and congratulate him. I know it’s been a while for him going through the situation he has for the last year and a half. I know he’s very fresh and is hungry and eager to get back to football as anyone I’ve ever talked to. Also, knowing the guy, I can tell how passionate he is about it. As far as what you asked, like long term plans and stuff, I think that’s one of the reasons we were able to get him. When this happened with Joe right here and the possibilities of Trent coming up, Trent’s been out of football for a year and a half, and Trent made it clear, I think, to everyone he wants to come back and didn’t want to do a deal right away. Really wanted to play and try to get back into it and see where he was at with the rest of the league and if he can pick up where he left off. So, I think that’s one of the reasons that we were able to get him; we were able to get him for what we did. I think it really helped us in the situation we’re in, because one thing John and I realized, just going through these last two months, what was so different in these last three years is every decision we make, we’re always trying to win. We were always trying to build this the right way. That’s something you’ve heard us say for a long time, and this is the first offseason that we’ll never finish with, “We’re trying to build this the right way.” This is the first year we look at it as we’re always building it for the future, but we’re not trying to build it for next year. We’re trying to build it the right way and never make bad decisions over the long haul, but we also feel we should’ve won the Super Bowl last year, and we want to have an opportunity to win it again. So, every decision we made was also with, how do we help this organization for the future, but it still feels like we’re in a position to be the same team, if not better this year than we were last year? Those are the things that come into play. You might have some absolutes. People will say, ‘You never pass up a top-five tackle if you can get him at 13.’ Well, what if you can get a top three-technique? What can that do to your D-Line? Well, that’s good, what happens next? You try to connect that all together and map out the best thing. But, the bottom line is you’re just trying to build our team the best we can to win this year without totally jeopardizing us in the future, and I think we balance that out as much as we can here over the last three days. That’s what we tried to balance out in free agency, too. That was a little different from how we had to work the first three years. It was a challenge, but when it’s all said and done, it was fun, and I like the decisions we’ve made.”
When you talk about being able to plug Trent in and you’re familiar with him and stuff, he’s been out for about a year and a half of football, so how do you see him making a seamless transition and is it actually helpful to have a guy that kind of knows your scheme in case you guys obviously don’t have offseason workouts and might have to study up quickly?
KS: “Yes, it definitely only helps. It definitely doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t mean it’s impossible if they haven’t. A lot of people will go through that this year. We did that during the lockout, whenever that was, ‘12 or ’11. I forget, but we didn’t see anyone until training camp. So, it’s not impossible, but it helps. Trent being out of football for a year and a half, you should be worried about that with some guys. Trent, I personally only think it would help him. I think his body is going to be fresher. Trent’s as impressive as an athlete as we’ll ever be around. I know he’s prepared and he’s a football player. He doesn’t do this. Everyone loves making a great living and everything like this, but Trent loves football. He’s very similar to Joe Staley in that way, and that’s why we’re excited to get him.”
Trent’s only signed for one more season. Is the plan to just sort of see how it goes this year, or is the plan, given your familiarity, to sign him to something long term right away?
JL: “I think the plan was to land him right now and then let the rest kind of work itself out. I think it’s always an advantage when you get someone in the building, on your roster. Now, you’ve got a chance, and we’ll get a really good look at him. We’ll see where the rest of our team is at, but right now, we’re just ecstatic that we were able to pull it off and at a really opportune time. You’re losing a great player like Joe in a very critical position. To be able to have everything line up, that that he was available right then, and then for us to be able to land him, is very fortuitous for us. We’re very excited about that.”
How close did you get, maybe, to acquiring Trent last season when Joe was hurt? Were there serious discussions there, and was this kind of a continued conversation, or did it stop and then restart just now?
JL: “I mean, it never got close last year. We inquired once or twice, but nothing was there. This literally heated up early this week. The exact date, as I said everything’s running, but my first call to Ron [Rivera] was probably Monday or Tuesday, and it progressed to the point where I felt like we were close, but then there was a lot of interest. So, Ron trying to do right by his organization kept saying, ‘Hey, we’re close, but let’s give it a day.’ That made for some unease but, that’s kind of the timeline of how this thing went down.”
KS: “Anything that’s been talked about was with Trent since we’ve been here until Joe told me personally on the phone a couple of days before the Draft that he was for sure retiring. It’s been completely just, whoever was trying to drive up the price or whatever it is trade stuff. We’ve always had a left tackle that we planned on having for a few more years, and once that changed, then it was worth looking into it. I didn’t think we’d pull it off. I thought it was a pipe dream. John and Ron Rivera and [Washington Redskins VP of player personnel] Kyle [Smith] were able to get it done, [president of 49ers Enterprises and EVP of football operations] Paraag [Marathe], too, everyone. So, it was great.”