49ers’ Trent Williams Under Fire Amid Cowboys Pass Rusher’s Sudden Retirement

Trent Williams

Getty Trent Williams is taking heat over a block behind Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch in 2023. Vander Esch retired on Monday.

San Francisco 49ers offensive tackle Trent Williams is in hot water with Dallas Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch calling it a career at age 26 on March 18.

Williams, a three-time All-Pro and 11-time Pro Bowler, blocked Vander Esch from behind during an October 2023 game, and it sent the Cowboys veteran head-first into linebacker Micah Parsons. Vander Esch sustained a cervical neck injury and went on season-ending injured reserve.

Video replay of the block circulating on social media led to disgustand blame — by fans. Vander Esch, who had a history of neck injuries, couldn’t pass a physical to play again, thus ending his six-year NFL career.

“Fans around the #NFL claim L. Vander Esch’s career is over because of #49ers LT Trent Williams. They also promote Trent is a ‘dirty player,'” a fan wrote on X. “I’m curious, do Niners fans believe Trent is a dirty player?”

Williams didn’t receive any penalty by the NFL for his hit on Vander Esch, which came a week after he punched a New York Giants defensive lineman and was fined $11,000.

Leighton Vander Esch Has a Long History of Neck-Related Injuries

Vander Esch’s history of neck injuries is extensive, and it goes back to his collegiate career at Boise State. It began when he sustained a pinched nerve in 2016 as sophomore and missed half of his sophomore season.

He dealt with a neck nerve problem in 2019 with the Cowboys that sidelined him for seven games. Vander Esch had surgery for a spinal stenosis after that season.

Things didn’t get better for Vander Esch in 2020, when he broke his collarbone and played in only 10 games. After an injury-free 2021, Vander Esch dealt with a nerve issue in his right shoulder.

An Idaho native, Vander Esch impressed as a three-sport star in high school before he walked on with Boise State. Vander Esch tallied 188 tackles, 5 sacks and 4 forced fumbles in his career, which included Mountain West Conference player of the year honors in 2017.

Dallas drafted him with the No. 19 pick in the 2018 NFL draft, and he took off from there as a second team All-Pro and Pro Bowler in his rookie season. Vander Esch amassed 469 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 13 pass deflections and 3 interceptions in his career.

Trent Williams Plans to Play 2 More Seasons

Retirement speculation came up for Williams, 35, late in the 2023 season, but he said he plans to keep playing. That was also in spite of how the Super Bowl turned out, which the 49ers lost 25-22 to the Kansas City Chiefs.

“I haven’t thought about the end, so I know I’m definitely in for the next couple of years,” Williams said on February 9, according to NBC Sports’ Matt Maiocco. “I’ll revisit it after that.”

“When you can achieve something that feels this good, you kind of get addicted to it, right? You want to achieve that award again. So I think that it will only make me want it more,” Williams added.

San Francisco saw the difference when Williams missed time due to injury last season. The 49ers went 0-3 from the game he went down against the Cleveland Browns, a 19-17 loss, in October 2023 until his return against the Jacksonville Jaguars, a 34-3 win, in November 2023.

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