But it should, by now, have been flogged into our brains: However unexpected the scenario you’re thinking about seems, don’t count it out. Trent Williams, team guy, is apparently so ticked off at the team that he’s not showing up, and no one seems to know when he will.
Coach Jay Gruden, forced into the role of team spokesman even though he has no control over any of this, said his understanding was that Williams was “frustrated” with how team medical staff handled the diagnosis of a growth on his head that was discovered over the winter. “Maybe he wished the diagnosis had come a little sooner,” Gruden said.
Maybe he did. What are we to believe?
Look, by July 25, when training camp opens in Richmond, maybe this will be a blip. It’s possible Williams is using what leverage he has — a tenured, star player whose coach has called him the best left tackle in the game making his displeasure known. He could be doing that with no intent to sabotage anything.
Adrian Peterson, Williams’s college teammate long ago at Oklahoma and perhaps his closest friend on this squad, said plainly: “I expect him to be back, and I don’t see why that wouldn’t be the case.” Peterson’s not much for speaking nonsense, so perhaps there’s a chance this seems like ancient history when the season begins Sept. 8 in Philadelphia.
But it’s not ancient history right now, in the moment. It’s disturbing. That changed, too, with the initial report Wednesday from CBS Sports that indicated Williams’s absence from minicamp wasn’t, in fact, financial but was because of his displeasure with, as Gruden said, the “timing” of the diagnosis of his ailment, which was not football-related. A contract dispute is rote. Discussion of medical malpractice takes things up a notch.
For the most part, players aren’t going to air the dirty laundry of teammates. This ultimately will be for Williams to explain. But it was telling that Morgan Moses, normally the tackle opposite Williams, described Williams’s actions as not wholly about himself but about raising a flag for the greater good.
“Obviously, it’s about time somebody like that stands up,” Moses said. “It’s not just a situation here. It happens throughout the league. To have one of our peers like Trent, a very valued guy on the field and off the field, to stand up like that, it means a lot to not just us as players but [to] the NFL as well. Obviously, his scare is one that you never want to have, but at the end of the day, [he’s] got to take care of himself.”
The implication there is more than implied: By taking care of himself, Williams is taking care of the rest of his teammates. Washington has endured two straight seasons with an extraordinary number of injuries. So it would make sense that there would be unrest among players about how their care was handled despite the franchise’s stated commitment to be among the best in the league in that area.
Williams’s situation wasn’t a pulled groin or a strained shoulder. It was scarier than that. So maybe he figures this is the best way he can relay that message to the team: I’m your longest-tenured player. I’ve done everything you have ever asked of me. Now I’m upset, and I want people to know it so that you will properly care for all of us.
As a fan base, though, this has to make you put your head in your hands for about the four billionth time in the past 20 years — not just because it’s happening but because of whom it’s happening with. Washington took Williams with the fourth pick of the 2010 draft, and you could make the argument he’s the franchise’s best selection during owner Daniel Snyder’s two-decade reign. Even as he has willed himself through injuries, Williams has been named to seven straight Pro Bowls.
“He’s a big part, probably the biggest part, of this team and — offensively — what we do,” Peterson said.
But it’s more than the quality of Williams’s play. It’s what he represented at the time of his draft, coming out of the chaos of the Jim Zorn/Vinny Cerrato years, and how he has handled himself through all the tumult that comes with playing for this franchise. When others have rattled the cage, his head has been down. He’s not supposed to be part of the noise. He’s supposed to help quell it.
“We have so many good things going on right now,” Gruden said. “I’m not going to let one distraction hold us back.”
This is just so Redskins. The messaging here matters, too. On Tuesday, Williams’s absence was contractual. By Wednesday, it was medical. It’s not crazy to try to keep such volatile information from the media and, therefore, the public. But players could see the company line for what it was, which was something less than the truth. What, then, are they to think of their employers?
So it goes in Ashburn. Every time you want to spend time looking for something to feel good about — whether it’s rookie linebacker Montez Sweat’s athleticism, Haskins’s accuracy, the defensive line’s potential, whatever — there’s a gravitational pull toward controversy and negativity. Two weeks ago, linebacker Reuben Foster, already a dubious pickup, blew out an ACL during a voluntary team workout. This week, it’s Williams.
Next week? Think of something outlandish and ridiculous. Then don’t count it out. Trent Williams is as close to a rock as Washington has. He’s not here for workouts, and who knows when — or if — he will be? A pleasant spring workout just became secondary, and it’s nearly impossible to see the good that might be going on through the latest quagmire.