There's a reoccurring theme surrounding the San Francisco 49ers recent free agency re-signings. While there have been a number of factors that played into each player's decision to return to the 49ers, a common thread among all of them is what Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch have established since taking over the franchise in 2017: culture.
Seventh-year nickel corner K'Waun Williams can attest to that notion. According to various reports, Williams received interest from several teams after hitting the open market in mid-March, including being courted by the Kansas City Chiefs. The corner also toyed with the opportunity to return to his hometown of Paterson, New Jersey. The stars appeared to align for Williams with the potential to reunite with former 49ers defensive coordinator and now New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh, who has repeatedly spoken very highly of the cornerback.
Instead, Williams opted to re-sign with the 49ers on a one-year deal on Friday. Familiarity played a role in his decision. But it was ultimately what the 49ers have built in-house that made returning to San Francisco his desired outcome.
"All the deals were pretty similar at the time, so I chose the 49ers," Williams said Tuesday. "I couldn't deny playing with some of my teammates on our secondary, you've got Jimmie Ward, Jaquiski Tartt, Jason Verrett. All those guys. Just being able to play one more year with those guys was too intriguing."
Heading into the offseason, the 49ers had more than 35 players set to his free agency, with nearly every significant contributor in the secondary on an expiring contract. San Francisco managed to retain a number of key starters, including Tartt, Verrett, Emmanuel Moseley and Dontae Johnson among other names. Even on the opposite side of the ball, Williams has taken an appreciation to Shanahan and Lynch's ability to fortify their roster and keep "the core" of the 49ers as intact as financially possible.
"Just seeing what Kyle and John have been able to build over these past couple months with free agency is phenomenal," Williams said. "Having those guys around and knowing them and having a good relationship with those guys and knowing what they bring to the table… everything feels like it's coming together. Just to be able to be a part of the defense and communicate with the guys that I've been playing with the last four years should be amazing."
Since joining the 49ers in 2017, Williams has averaged just 25 yards per game allowed and recorded seven forced fumbles, four sacks, three interceptions and 13 passes defended. Additionally, Williams has allowed just one touchdown on 99 targets over the past two seasons.
Williams' presence on defense doesn't go unnoticed. In his four seasons in San Francisco, Williams ranked eighth in the NFL in slot coverage grade and generated the third-most WAR (wins above replacement) among defensive players on the 49ers roster, according to Pro Football Focus.
While the locker room is certainly enthused on "The Shark's" return (see Tartt and Kyle Juszczyk’s interviews), the cornerback's ability to help San Francisco compete for a title yet again, only sweetened the deal for Williams.
"Those guys are everything, (his teammates) were vital to the process," Williams said. "Ultimately, they wanted me to make a decision that was best for me, but deep down inside they wanted me to come back to the 49ers and do one more year with them. So, I was excited to be able to come back and to go for the dream this year and try to win it."