Trading for left tackle Trent Williams signified a monumental move Saturday in 49ers history.
Specifically, Joe Staley retired, after 13 seasons as not only their left tackle but often the franchise’s frontman during escapes from the NFL pits to twice reach the Super Bowl.
“Skill set wise, Trent is similar to Joe,” said 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, who was Washington’s offensive coordinator when Williams arrived as the 2010 draft’s No. 4 pick. “They’re two of most athletic guys I’ve been around at that position. They can run. Also, he’s a great dude, too. I mean I love the guy.”
Staley’s exit and Williams’ arrival loomed largest among the 49ers’ roster moves the past three days. Three offensive players got selected Saturday to cap a five-man draft class, the 49ers’ smallest since 1997. Two veteran starters got traded away for draft picks: running back Matt Breida (Miami Dolphins) and wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (Philadelphia Eagles).
The 49ers acquired Williams for a fifth-round selection (No. 156 overall) and a 2021 third-round pick, so long as he passes a physical. Williams familiarity with Shanahan’s scheme could especially ease a transition that won’t offer the usual offseason program, due to the coronavirus pandemic’s lockdown.
Said Shanahan: “I know he’s very fresh and as hungry and as eager to get back to football as anyone I’ve ever talked to.”
Williams did not play last season, disgruntled over Washington’s medical staff and its treatment for a cancerous growth on his scalp.
“I’m thankful this is over,” Williams told NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. “Thanks to Dan and the organization for all they’ve done for me. Still a lot of love for the fans and that locker room. Now I’m focusing on being the best player I can possibly be for the 49ers.”
A decade ago, Williams arrived as Washington’s first-round draft pick in 2010. Mike Shanahan was starting his first year there as coach, while his son, Kyle, arrived as offensive coordinator.
Shanahan made sure to tell the media Saturday the 49ers did not feverishly pursue Williams until Staley informed them of his retirement. That was before the draft, before they passed on offensive tackle such as Tristan Wirfs at No. 13.
“When you lose a guy like Joe, there is a huge panic there,” Shanahan said. “We couldn’t guaranteed it’d work out with Washington but John was as persistent as he could be. We took that risk. That’s why we were excited it came through. ... It was a good gamble that worked out well.”
Williams will slide into a 49ers offense that has established itself as a run-oriented force, though the passing attack has added promise with Thursday’s first-round selection of wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk to complement Jimmy Garoppolo’s favorite targets George Kittle and Deebo Samuel.
Williams, who turns 32 on July 19, earned annual Pro Bowl honors from 2012 to 2018 before sitting out last season. He did not report to Washington until Oct. 29 before the trade deadline and was promptly placed on the reserve/non-football-injury list.
Williams has only one season remaining on his contract, at a $12.5 million salary. Although it was speculated he wants a contract extension -- and why a deal with the Minnesota Vikings fell through -- Shanahan indicated they’ll let the coming season unfold first.
“Trent made it clear to everyone he wanted to come back and didn’t want to do a deal right away, really wanted to play, get back into it and see where he was at with the rest of the league,” Shanahan said. “I think he can pick up where he left off.”
His arrival means the 49ers need not shift 2018 first-round pick Mike McGlinchey out of right tackle. While Staley missed nine games last season, the 49ers opted not to move McGlinchey and instead auditioned first-year tackles in Justin Skule and Daniel Brunskill. Shon Coleman re-signed last month to again vie for a backup role.
Another option is fifth-round draft pick Colton McKivitz, who Shanahan said was a candidate for their fourth-round pick before they traded it Thursday to move up and draft wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk.
Staley, who turns 36 on Aug. 30, has made six Pro Bowls and played in the fifth-most games (181) among the 49ers’ all-time offensive linemen. He missed nine games last season but returned from a broken leg and a surgically repaired finger to participate in the 49ers’ playoff run, which culminated in the NFC Championship and a crushing defeat in Super Bowl LIV.
Lynch said the 49ers “never got close” to trading for Williams early last season once Staley go hurt.
“Trent being out of football for a year and half, you worry about that with some guys. With Trent, I personally think it will only help him,” Shanahan said. “His body is going to be fresher. Trent is as impressive an athlete as you’ll ever be around. I know he’s prepared.”