The 49ers may have found Joe Staley’s replacement for now. But in a year, they might have to replace the replacement.
When Staley retired, the 49ers traded a 2020 fifth-round pick and a 2021 third-rounder to Washington for seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams. Williams is the best left tackle in the NFL when healthy. But he will be a free agent in 2021, and there’s no guarantee he’ll re-sign with the 49ers.
“Contract wise, we both agreed to take a wait-and-see approach,” Williams said Thursday on a video conference with Bay Area reporters. “It’s the last year of my deal. Obviously there’s incentive for me to play well. And obviously they had to give up a third-rounder next year, so they’re kind of invested in the deal as well. I think both parties are interested in something long term, but I’m more than OK with just getting my feet wet and playing it out.”
Williams, 31, could command as much as $20 million per season.
Williams was the fourth pick in the 2010 NFL draft. Washington took him when Mike Shanahan was its head coach and Kyle Shanahan was its offensive coordinator. So Williams and Shanahan have history.
Before the 49ers traded for Williams, he had played his entire career for Washington. But he sat out all of last season, because in April of 2019 he had a procedure to remove a cancerous growth from his head. Washington’s medical staff spotted the growth in 2013, but informed Williams it was nothing serious. So after the surgery in 2019, Williams refused to play another down for Washington. Meaning he hasn’t played football since 2018.
Williams and the 49ers hope all that time off served him well.
“I feel like I’m 25 again,” Williams said. “This was my first year off from football since the second grade. That’s 25 years of straight football every August. My body has had a chance to rest, to heal. I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a position where I didn’t feel an ache or a pain while going through offseason training. I feel rejuvenated to say the least.”
Williams might not get a chance to go through a full offseason with the 49ers. The Covid 19 pandemic will shut down OTAs and minicamp, and could shorten training camp as well.
Can Williams get himself up to speed with the 49ers offense?
Don’t bet against him.
“Under regular circumstances,” Williams said. “I think it would be extremely challenging or next to impossible to be as effective as you want to be without having a proper offseason. But in this case, I literally could go line up in that huddle and go run a play today. That’s how familiar I am with the offense. The learning curve is a lot shorter.”