SANTA CLARA — The story did not end for left tackle Trent Williams once the 49ers awarded him the most-lucrative contract for any offensive lineman in NFL history.
At 33, he felt it was only beginning on a new, important stage of his football career.
Williams said he placed even more emphasis on improving his game from the 2020 season that convinced the 49ers to present him with a six-year, $138 million contract with $40 million fully guaranteed.
“I know I was getting long in the tooth and a lot of people wouldn’t invest that much money into a player that is getting up there in age. The fact they did it, it made me know they believed in me,” Williams told NBC Sports Bay Area at the premiere of his documentary, “Silverback: The Trent Williams Story.”
“And in return, I got to prove them right. I got to show them that it’s more than about just getting the check. It’s about going out and proving that I deserve it. I want to prove that I deserve it and prove my worth.”
Coach Kyle Shanahan, who was Washington’s offensive coordinator in 2010 when Williams was selected with the No. 4 overall pick, believes Williams is having the best season of his career.
Williams is grading out at historic levels in pass protection and run blocking, according to Pro Football Focus. He has allowed just one sack in his past 735 pass-blocking snaps.
“In the sense that I always want to get better, I felt like last year was one of my better seasons I had up until that point and then my goal as a professional is to build on last year and be better this year,” Williams said. “I hope that’s the case. That’s what I worked for, and next year I want to be better than this year.”
Williams returned to action in 2020 after he did not play the previous season. He underwent surgery in 2019 to remove a rare form of cancer, dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans, from his scalp.
The ordeal, which is detailed in the new documentary, required 350 stitches and 75 staples on his head with a circular incision the size of a softball.
After he came to the 49ers in a draft-day trade in 2020, Williams appeared to be even better than when he last played.
“I think just talking to Trent, his personal experiences and his challenges made him realize how much more precious each second he works for is,” 49ers left guard Laken Tomlinson said.
Williams agrees that the life-threatening experience ultimately made him a better player.
“If it did anything, it made me more confident in myself to know I got what it takes to prevail and I got what it takes to overcome adversity,” Williams said. “So I think it helped me to become a better player by making me be more confident in myself.”
Williams, listed at 6-foot-5, 320 pounds, might have the best combination of athleticism, size, strength, knowledge and technique of any lineman who has ever played the game.
He has earned Pro Bowl recognition in each of his past eight seasons, and is well on his way to nine seasons in a row.
“I’ve seen every look, playing 12 years of football,” Williams said. “Me knowing the game definitely helps. Honestly, Physically, I was blessed. God blessed me with athletic ability, but not only was I blessed, I worked hard at it.
“I’m getting out of what I put into it, and I put a lot into it. I understand as long as I put a lot into it, I should be successful.”
Williams and Tomlinson form what is likely the best left side of an offensive line in the NFL. Tomlinson has not allowed a sack this season, and he takes pride is allowing Williams to play his game with full confidence in the player who lines up beside him.
“When it comes to physical talent, Trent is in a league of his own," Tomlinson said. "I see myself as a very competitive guy, especially when it comes to the weight room. And just to see Trent make everything that I work so hard to do look easy, it’s extremely infuriating.
"But I love it because he’s on he’s on my team, he’s my left tackle and I get to work with him every day.”