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How Washington alienated franchise left tackle Trent Williams

Don’t expect to see Trent Williams ever play for Washington again.

If it wasn’t already obvious for months that the seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle doesn’t want to be on the team, Williams made his frustrations with Washington explicitly clear at the end of October.

Williams, 31, blamed team doctors for misdiagnosing and downplaying a growth on his head, which turned out to be cancer. That’s 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 that doesn’t mean he’s done trying to get out of Washington.

A messy divorce between Williams and the team that selected him in the top five of the 2010 NFL Draft looks inevitable. Williams now says he has “no trust” in the organization.

That’s bad news for Washington, which could certainly use Williams’ help protecting rookie first-round quarterback Dwayne Haskins. It also stands to lose a leader who the Washington Post described as “the team’s most-revered player.”

It’s not a happy ending for Williams either, who told reporters he has a “ton of respect” for team owner Dan Snyder and that he “personally loved” recently fired coach Jay Gruden. His anger instead falls on the medical staff and team president Bruce Allen:

Let’s look at the long and complicated road that led to this point, and what’s next:

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.

Why did Williams report to the team?

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

Williams’ five-year, $68 million contract extension he signed with Washington runs out 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’ll get credit for the 2019 season — regardless of how his helmet issue is resolved — and still be set to hit free agency in 2021.

That’s a win for Williams, who upped his potential at getting a sizable new contract. It’s a loss for Washington, which loses some of Williams’ trade value.

How will Williams’ helmet complaint be resolved?

It’s anyone’s guess how serious Williams’ discomfort is when he put on a helmet at the end of October. On the one hand, it’s an 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, what we know for now is that there are a few ways this could shake out:

  1. Williams finds a helmet he likes and plays: Don’t count on this happening, though. Williams has given about seven months’ worth of evidence that he doesn’t want to play for Washington.
  2. Williams plays through discomfort: This also doesn’t seem likely, for the same reason.
  3. Williams is placed on Non-Football Injury (NFI) list: Here’s the likely scenario, although Washington can then choose whether or not it pays Williams. He’s due about $5.7 million in salary for the remainder of the season. If Washington chooses not to pay him, it’ll probably get a fight from Williams.

After the season, a trade is presumably on the way. 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. Still, Washington will have no choice but to accept some value in return for Williams, especially if the offensive tackle doesn’t play for the team at all in 2019.

The feud between Williams and Washington is still in progress, but it seems like a foregone conclusion that a split is coming soon.

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