One day before the opening of the NFL's open-negotiating period, Trent Williams visited with retired NFL coach Mike Shanahan while on vacation in Cabo San Lucas.
The two men avoided any discussion of where Williams, one of the best offensive linemen of his generation and a highly coveted free agent, would be playing next season and beyond.
Several days later, the subject of his future was the only thing on Williams’ mind when he reached out to 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan on a Tuesday night from a new, upscale Midtown Houston restaurant.
“I texted Kyle and told him I’m ready to go ahead and make my decision,” Williams said. “It’s getting late, I’m about ready to have dinner. And once I finish dinner, I’m ready to go.”
Within an hour, Williams’ agent, Vincent Taylor, and 49ers chief negotiator, Paraag Marathe, came to agreement on a six-year, $138.06 million contract that makes Williams the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history.
Williams, who turns 33 in July, would likely be a member of the Kansas City Chiefs today if not for the close relationship he formed with the Shanahan family from their time together in Washington.
Mike Shanahan, 68, a two-time Super Bowl winning coach, made Williams his first draft pick after landing the job as head coach and executive vice president with Washington. Williams was the No. 4 overall selection in the 2010 draft.
Kyle Shanahan, 41, Mike’s son, was the team’s offensive coordinator during Williams’ first four NFL seasons. The 49ers acquired Williams during the draft last season in a trade with Washington, where he had grown miserable. He put together another outstanding season to earn his eighth Pro Bowl selection.
Williams clearly was the 49ers’ top free-agent priority this offseason. But the 49ers were in serious danger of losing, again, to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Nearly a week into free agency, conversations between Williams’ agent and the 49ers had stalled. The Chiefs were ready to strike.
“I always told Kyle since Day 1, if I was going to go anywhere, I was going to call him first and let him know what the matter was,” Williams said. “Once I got the hunch that K.C. seemed like they were ready to make it official, I called Kyle.”
Williams walked outside of Thirteen by James Harden, a new restaurant in Houston to speak with Shanahan on March 16.
“Kyle loves FaceTime,” Williams said. “I don’t think I ever talk to him on the phone. It’s always FaceTime.”
Williams said he could not bring himself to tell Shanahan he was on the verge of agreeing to terms with Kansas City, so he spoke in code.
“I didn’t have the heart to say, ‘Hey, I’m getting ready to sign with somebody else,’” Williams said. “I was just telling Kyle, ‘I’m ready to get this over with. If whatever is the last offer and that’s the last offer, I appreciate it, but I’m just ready to make my decision.’”
Williams’ message to Shanahan was, in effect, to let Marathe know that now is the time to bring the 49ers’ best offer to the table. While Williams was savoring chef Tobias Dorzon’s entree, he wanted the 49ers to come through with the sweet desserts.
At that point, Williams did not need to hear anything from Shanahan to sway him. It was all about business.
“Kyle is like family to me,” Williams said. “His family is like family to me. I literally just went and sat with his dad in Cabo, actually, 24 hours before free agency started. And we didn’t even talk about free agency. We just talked about football, We just caught up for a couple of hours. That’s just how close I am with that family.
“Kyle didn’t have to sell anything to me. I already knew what this place has to offer. I knew what he has to offer. And I knew what the front office has to offer.”
The offer, it turned out, was six years at an average annual salary of $23.01 million, eclipsing the $23 million-a-year average David Bakhtiari signed in November with the Green Bay Packers.
“I went back in, ate dinner and literally by the time I got my keys from the valet, and sat in the car, my agent was calling me to tell me the deal was done,” Williams said.
“It didn’t take more than an hour or so.”