© Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
Of course they knew. When the 49ers passed on Iowa tackle Tristan Wirfs with the 13th pick in the NFL Draft, it was not for lack of consideration. They knew Joe Staley was retiring. They also knew they were closing in on a deal for Washington Redskins left tackle Trent Williams, but had to be tactile in the way they carried out their business.
If Joe Staley retired before the draft, the Redskins could pump up the asking price, especially given the tempestuous relationship between Kyle Shanahan and Redskins owner Daniel Snyder. And Staley gave the 49ers the gift of information, while also waiting to share that information with the world.
So, on Saturday, after NBC Sports’ Matt Maiocco had said two days prior that “I kinda doubt” that Staley would return, the 49ers pulled off a coup, trading a 2021 third-rounder and this year’s fifth-round pick (pick 156) for the seven-time (in a row) Pro Bowl tackle in Williams, a former fourth overall pick. Then, Staley announced his retirement.
Shanahan said Staley informed him on Monday in a phone that he’d be retiring, something Shanahan credited as allowing the plan to come together.
“You could tell that he wanted to retire,” Shanahan said. “And it was very cool of Joe to be that honest with us before the draft.”
While there were inquiries last year on Williams at the trade deadline last October (after Staley fractured his fibula), the talks didn’t begin in earnest until that news came to them. When it did happen, and the 49ers also managed to replace DeForest Buckner with Javon Kinlaw, and Emmanuel Sanders with Brandon Aiyuk, it was a swift, covert operation, finished.
“I didn’t think we’d be able to pull it off,” said Shanahan. “I thought it was a pipe dream.”
The 49ers did have interest in Wirfs, who Lynch said the 49ers were “extremely fond of,” that plan to trade for Williams was brewing in the background. Shanahan acknowledged there was a”‘huge panic there” losing Staley and hoping that the trade didn’t break down, especially with his relationship with the Redskins.
“We couldn’t guarantee it was going to work out with Washington,” Shanahan said. “But John was as persistent as he could be and we took that risk.”
Shanahan, who coached Williams with the Redskins from 2010-2013, said Williams was more focused on returning to football and seeing where the league values him, than ironing out a new extension, which may have played into the reasonable cost for him… in addition to the obvious fact, that, after sitting out a full season of demanding a trade, he would not have played for the Redskins again.
So, thanks to Staley delaying his announcement, and informing the 49ers ahead of the draft, San Francisco replaced a Pro Bowl tackle with another Pro Bowl tackle (who’s three years younger than Staley and who was able to rest his body for a year from the toll of a 16-game season), and drafted two first-round talents for the two gaping holes they had after trades and free agency.
Shanahan said that the 49ers decided to stick to their draft plan, but that if they couldn’t get Williams, their “Plan B” was to get Colton McKivitz in the fourth round. That’s who San Francisco ended up with in round five, after trading away Marquise Goodwin to move up from the 210th overall spot to 190.
“We’re just ecstatic that we were able to pull it off,” Lynch said. “At a really opportune time, and you’re losing a great player like Joe at a very critical position to be able to, to, to have everything lined up, you know, that, that he was available right then and then for us to be able to land on it, I think very fortuitous for us and we’re, we’re very excited about that.”