clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

How Washington alienated (and eventually traded) franchise left tackle Trent Williams

Trent Williams says the only team he’s ever played for didn’t properly address a growth on his head that turned out to be cancer.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

NFL Football-Washington Redskins at New York Giants Photo by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post via Getty Images

Trent Williams was never going to play for Washington again.

After making it obvious for months that he didn’t want to be on the team, the seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle made his frustrations with Washington explicitly clear at the end of October 2019.

Now he’s a member of the San Francisco 49ers after getting traded for a 2020 fifth-round pick and a 2021 third-rounder.

Williams, 31, blamed Washington team doctors for misdiagnosing and downplaying a growth on his head, which turned out to be cancer. That was why he skipped offseason activities, training camp, preseason, and the first eight weeks of the 2019 season. He reported to the team just minutes after he wasn’t moved at the NFL’s trade deadline, but didn’t play a game. Williams ended the year on the reserve/non-football injury list.

It was a lengthy and messy divorce between Williams and the team that selected him in the top five of the 2010 NFL Draft. Williams told reporters he has “no trust” in the organization.

For a brief moment, that looked to be changing, though. New Washington coach Ron Rivera tried his best to mend the relationship with Williams and bring the offensive tackle back.

That would’ve been great news for Washington, which certainly could’ve used Williams’ help protecting 2019 first-round quarterback Dwayne Haskins. The Washington Post described Williams as “the team’s most-revered player.”

Washington parted ways with everyone that frustrated Williams in the first place. He told reporters that he has a “ton of respect” for team owner Dan Snyder and that he “personally loved” recently fired coach Jay Gruden. His anger instead fell on the medical staff and team president Bruce Allen.

Washington fired Allen and the head trainer a day after the end of the regular season. With a reshaped front office and medical staff, the path was cleared for a reunion. Building a relationship with Rivera and his hires seemed to be the only thing left before a Williams return. That deteriorated, though.

In the beginning of March, the team granted Williams permission to seek a trade. Three weeks later, Williams’ agent Vincent Taylor gave a statement to ESPN that accused Washington of showing “no interest in negotiating in good faith.”

Here’s the complicated road that led to the trade:

A timeline of Trent Williams’ conflict with Washington

The exact moment Williams first noticed he had a lump on his head is unknown. He told reporters that it was “roughly” six years ago and during Mike Shanahan’s final season with the team (2013) that he first noticed the growth.

“I was told it was something minor, so I didn’t really question them,” Williams said. “But, I mean, the lump continued to grow over the years. It was concerning, but there was no pain involved and if I’m being told by the very people I put my career in the hands of, people are telling me I’m fine, [then] I’m fine. That’s how I looked at it.”

That issue then became a major problem in 2019.

Jan. 24, 2019: Williams was supposed to be in the Pro Bowl, but pulled out due to an injury. Neither Washington nor Williams disclosed the nature or severity of the injury.

February 2019: Williams posted a video on Instagram that appeared to show him recovering from a procedure on his head.

It wasn’t until a couple months later that Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported that Williams had a “very serious” health scare due to a growth on his head.

June 4, 2019: Williams didn’t show up for minicamp, although Rapoport said it was because the offensive tackle was on the hunt for a new contract. A day later, Rapoport said Williams’ discontent with the team’s handling of his health was also a factor that led to his absence from minicamp.

July 22, 2019: Reports first surfaced that Williams would sit out training camp as well, and they came with a warning that it could be a lengthy battle.

Those reports were confirmed a couple days later when camp opened and Williams wasn’t there; however, Gruden told reporters the team “expects him back soon.”

Aug. 22, 2019: NBC Sports Washington reported the Patriots offered a first-round pick for Williams, but the offer was rejected by Washington. Less than a week later, Allen said he believed Williams would play football in 2019 and “it’ll be with us.”

Oct. 29, 2019: Williams reported to the team, but NBC Sports Washington said the offensive tackle had “no intention of playing this season.” A day later, Williams passed every step of his physical except when it came time to put on a helmet. He reported discomfort, which gave Washington a couple weeks to find him a helmet that is comfortable.

Oct. 31, 2019: Williams revealed the growth removed from his head was a rare form of cancer called Dermatofibrosarcoma Protuberans (DFSP). He told reporters that the tumor was close to spreading to his brain.

“We literally caught it within weeks of metastasizing through to my brain to my skull,” Williams said, via ESPN. “Extracting it was the only thing they could do. Doing radiology on it would have put a cap on my life. I think 15 years was the most I would have had after I started chemo. So I had to cut it out.”

According to Williams, the surgery required 350 stitches and 75 staples on his head and the diameter of the incision was about that of a softball. He said only his former teammate DeAngelo Hall, who retired after the 2017 season, visited him in the hospital.

Other reports say head athletic trainer Larry Hess spent time with Williams in Chicago.

Hours after Williams spoke to reporters, the team released a statement that asked a joint committee to review the medical care Williams received.

Nov. 1, 2019: The NFL confirmed an investigation into Williams’ claims will happen. The timing of the statement only drew criticism, though. Washington knew for months that Williams had a cancerous tumor removed that went unchecked for years, but a commission wasn’t requested until hours after Williams made his complaints public.

Nov. 3, 2019: The NFLPA tweeted a strong statement in support of Williams, accusing the NFL Network of spreading “misinformation.” But the statement also said that it will not cooperate with the investigation into Williams’ medical records out of respect for the offensive tackle’s wishes.

Former Washington GM, and current NFL Network analyst, Charley Casserly said that team doctors advised Williams to get his growth removed earlier and then hinted his contract was the real reason for his holdout. The players’ union said it would “consider potential action if a campaign against [Williams] continues.”

But as for the investigation, Williams would reportedly prefer that the entire situation be left in the past.

Nov. 7, 2019: Williams was placed on the Non-Football Injury (NFI) list, guaranteeing his 2019 season was over without him playing a single game.

Nov. 8, 2019: After placing him on the NFI list, Washington elected not to pay Williams the remaining balance of his $5.1 million base salary for the 2019 season.

Dec. 30, 2019: Allen was dismissed by the team after a 3-13 season and head trainer Larry Hess was also fired.

March 5, 2020: Washington grants Williams the opportunity to seek a trade.

March 8, 2020: ESPN reports that in addition to being traded, Williams wants a contract that will pay him $20 million per year. The current highest paid offensive lineman in the NFL is Lane Johnson at $18 million per year.

March 24, 2020: Williams’ agent provided a statement to ESPN accusing Washington of not negotiating in good faith on the trade market:

Why did Williams report to the team?

If Williams hadn’t showed up for the entire 2019 season, he wouldn’t have accrued an NFL season and his contract would’ve tolled over.

Williams signed a five-year, $68 million contract extension with Washington that ends after the 2020 season. If he hadn’t reported, the contract would still have two seasons left and he wouldn’t be due to reach free agency until 2022. By showing up, he got credit for the 2019 season — regardless of the fact that his helmet issue wasn’t resolved — and is still set to hit free agency in 2021.

That was a win for Williams, who upped his potential at getting a new contract and his leverage to get out of Washington. It was a loss for Washington, which lost some of Williams’ trade value.

How will Williams’ helmet complaint be resolved?

It’s anyone’s guess how serious Williams’ discomfort was when he put on a helmet at the end of October. On the one hand, it seemed like an easy out for a player who probably doesn’t want to play. On the other hand, Williams’ head had 350 stitches and 75 staples in it. A helmet very well may be uncomfortable.

Either way, he landed on the NFI and Washington had to choice whether or not it wanted to pay Williams. He was due about $5.7 million in salary for the remainder of the season. Washington chose not to pay him.

Washington reportedly turned away teams calling about Williams and told them to check back in with offers during the 2020 offseason. Then the franchise changed course in a last-minute effort to trade Williams, but made unrealistic demands like asking the Browns for 2018 top-five pick Denzel Ward.

The feud between Williams and Washington is finally over and that’s probably good news for all parties at this point.