Past meets present
Williams and Shanahan have reasons for revenge Sunday, but they say they’re over it
Sunday should be the most emotionally charged game of the year for the San Francisco 49ers — except they insist it won’t be.
San Francisco has three members of its organization who were once major contributors in Washington. Coach Kyle Shanahan was able to get his revenge last year, trashing Washington’s homecoming game (“I thought that was a high school thing”) then giving the game ball to his dad, Mike Shanahan, after a shutout win.
Former Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams and tight end Jordan Reed will get their first shot at revenge on Sunday, though Williams insists his anger isn’t directed at the players who will take the field.
“The people who helped instigate that situation are no longer part of the organization,” he said, referring to former team president Bruce Allen and trainer Larry Hess. “I’m not going to sit here and carry some grudge just because people expect me to carry it.”
Shanahan struck a similarly conciliatory tone, noting his respect for new Washington coach Ron Rivera.
“I feel like I’ve gotten closure on it,” he said. “I respect the hell out of Ron Rivera. I love [personnel chief] Kyle Smith and the guys that I know there. Those guys are doing a great job. I can tell they’re being led very well.”
Reed is the lone member of the trio who left without a cloud of controversy — Washington decided to move on after he suffered seven documented concussions, leading to questions about whether he should play football again.
Shanahan said he shared those concerns, but it was in part an endorsement from Williams that led him to reconsider.
“Then when you tell the doctors to [look at him]— our guys aren’t trying to make something happen,” Shanahan said. “They look at everything they have, and they didn’t have any worries when it came to the concussion part. We felt very good about it.”
With Shanahan’s departure having been well documented over the past few years, it’s Williams who is in the spotlight this week ahead of Sunday’s game.
Williams took some time to reflect in a call with a handful of Washington media members on Thursday night. He did not play the 2019 season after undergoing surgery to remove a growth on his head— something he feels Washington doctors did not do enough to proactively diagnose and treat.
Then Allen and Hess were fired, and Rivera entered, leading Williams to believe he might return — but at that point, he requested a new, long-term contract from Washington, which Rivera wasn’t willing to give sight unseen.
There were reports that Minnesota offered him a long-term deal, to reunite with Kirk Cousins, but he ultimately picked San Francisco and Shanahan, with no promise of longterm money, but a guarantee he wouldn’t be given the franchise tag next year.
“If it was about the money, I could have taken the money in Minnesota,” Williams said. “It wasn’t about the money. At the end of the day, it was about the respect. I feel like I didn’t get it at that point.
“The nine years previous I didn’t have an issue. I saw issues happen, but I overlooked them since they didn’t happen to me. I’m not saying this was a one-off, but this was my first time being on that side of things.”
Rivera said he didn’t want to discuss what happened, that he’s focused on his team this week.
There has been equal interest this week in reverse from San Francisco media — the 49ers traded Alex Smith after the 2012 season to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Smith said the fact that the game is in Arizona, not San Francisco, and that most of the people who were there when he was have since departed make it less of an event for him.
For Williams, the departure is still fresh. He was asked what hewants his legacy in Washington to be.
“If you ask people who kept up with the situation, and knew, they’d probably appreciate the seven Pro Bowls that I gave them while I was there,” he said. “If you talked to people who don’t know much about the situation, or just want to be negative, they’d probably tell you I betrayed the team. So it probably depends who you ask.”
If things had ended on good terms, Williams would likely have left as the best player of the decade in Washington, and one of the franchise’s legends.
So he was asked, does he want to be in Washington’s Ring of Fame? He paused.
“If they feel like I deserve it, I’ll be there,” he said. “If not, then I won’t.
“I didn’t leave with any animosity towards anybody, or even the organization. I’m still rooting for the Redskins — the Football Team— every chance I get. Those guys on the team I really care about, and really want them to do well.
“Hopefully Washington decides to put me in there. If not, it doesn’t matter. Hopefully I can string together a string of seasons to where I’m worthy of it here. I think that’s the only thing I can do.”