Going into NFL free agency, the San Francisco 49ers had some talented pieces they needed to re-sign. Left tackle Trent Williams was at the top of that list.
General manager John Lynch acted fast when he found out that longtime stalwart left tackle Joe Staley was retiring and acquired Williams from the Washington Football Team during the 2020 NFL Draft.
The move was a clear win for the Niners. Williams came in and quickly re-established himself as a premier player. The 32-year-old suited up for 14 games and was named the NFL's best offensive lineman by Pro Football Focus. Williams was in a contract and year, and his performance warranted a significant raise.
Williams came into the offseason as arguably the best free agent available. Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan knew it would be expensive to lock up the perennial All-Pro but did what they needed to get the job done.
San Francisco signed Williams to a six-year deal worth up to $138.06 million, making him the highest-paid offensive lineman in the league.
“I had good conversations with people in that organization, and they made a good push ...” Williams said at his recent media availability. “I always told Kyle [Shanahan] from day one that if I was gonna go anywhere, I would call him first and let him know what the matter was.”
Williams flirted with the Kansas City Chiefs. Once the two parties came close to an agreement, Williams showed his loyalty by reaching out to Shanahan.
“Once I got the hunch that KC seemed like they were ready to make it official, I called Kyle, Williams said. “I couldn’t even really get it out and just tell him. But I was just like, ‘Hey man, we just need to hurry this up if you get my drift. Tell Paraag [Marathe] to do whatever they got to do, but tell him and [John] Lynch to work something out because I’m kind of ready to make my decision. So, I would like for everything to be on the table.’”
The 49ers acted fast and crunched the numbers to lockup Williams. The team gave him a $40.1 million signing bonus, and Marathe structured the contract so that San Francisco will have the option to retain Williams from 2024 through 2026.
But before he signed the record-breaking deal, Williams was spending time with Shanahan’s father and longtime NFL coach, Mike, in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Williams says they didn’t discuss any free-agent-related matters and instead just generally talked football and life.
“Kyle, he’s like family to me, his family is like family to me,” Williams said. “Kyle didn’t have to sell anything to me. I already knew what this place has to offer. I knew what he has to offer. And I knew what the front office had to offer.”
During the wee hours of Wednesday morning, Williams — who spends most of his time in Houston during the offseason — was at NBA superstar James Harden’s restaurant with friends. While there, he texted his head coach to let him know that he was close to making a final decision.
Shanahan FaceTimed Williams and the two discussed things for roughly 10 minutes. About an hour after the call wrapped up, the left tackle got word from his agent.
“We had a good talk,” Williams said. “I think I went back in, ate dinner, and by the time I literally got my keys from valet and sat in the car, my agent was calling me, telling me the deal was done.”
"Faithful, I'm back."— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) March 24, 2021
Let's go @TrentW71! #FTTB pic.twitter.com/fh4fOUdd03
The news was a breath of fresh air for The Faithful, who were concerned they would lose a huge part of the offense. Williams should have at least three good seasons left in him and certainly could play a high level even longer.
“Knowing the medicine now and the way the NFL takes care of their players now, I think yeah, I think playing until 40 is well within reach,” Williams said. “The way I feel right now, I do think I have six years in my body. But I’m not going to be unrealistic. I’m going to take it one day at a time and continue to plug away at it. But that is the goal.”
We are a long way from when Williams turns 40, but in the meantime, the Niners have their answer at one of the most important positions in the game.