The Redskins' defense in 2010 and 2011 was one of the best in franchise history. By 2012, Trent Williams was the league's most dominant left tackle, and the Redskins defense led the NFL in forcing turnovers.
From 2012 to 2013, it was one of the worst. Then-defensive coordinator Jim Haslett left for Tampa Bay; overall, the Redskins defense declined from No. 3 in 2012 to 26th in 2013. Williams finished 2015 with a career-high 5.5 sacks, but the Washington defense finished 29th in the NFL.
It was a stark turnaround for Williams, who starred as a member of the three-man line. "Me coming to Washington was a good decision. At the time, it was a big statement," Williams said Monday night after returning from Super Bowl LIII, when he defeated the Patriots and was named Defensive Player of the Game. "Our defense was one of the better defenses in the league, and if we didn't keep changing things up on defense we were doomed."
The upstart defense of 2014 and 2015 helped make Williams a perennial Pro Bowl selection. In addition to his career high with 5.5 sacks, Williams had 16 of his 137 career quarterback hits in 2015 and eight of his 11 career forced fumbles came in 2015.
Now the 31-year-old Williams is a top candidate to go into the Hall of Fame. He is currently one of five players who was part of that 2012 Super Bowl team still on the Redskins roster. The other four are safety LaRon Landry, running back Alfred Morris, left guard Shawn Lauvao and right tackle Morgan Moses.
Williams wants to return for what could be a pivotal year on the defense. Just two days after he was named a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Williams said he talked to coach Ron Rivera, whose Carolina Panthers fell to the Patriots in Super Bowl LIII. As part of his first off-season interview, Williams said he discussed Carolina with Rivera, who is scheduled to interview with the Redskins this week. Rivera was a coach on the Redskins staff when Williams was drafted by the club.
"If they do decide to bring me back, I'll just go out there and play ball," Williams said. "I haven't been around long enough to think what's gonna happen and I won't really know until I get to Seattle. If it comes down to it, I won't really think about it. I just want to go out there and play. I never stopped, never ever thought I had a good year. I still think I got a lot more I can do."
Rivera has denied any plans to leave his current role as the Panthers' head coach to take over as Washington's DCD. But former Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson said last month the message from Rivera during the Super Bowl "absolutely" made it unlikely that the Redskins would get his blessing to interview Rivera. Thompson said that Rivera was referring to the situation in Washington, with his representatives not even approaching Rivera about being an option for the job. Thompson added that Rivera would "never coach for the Redskins and is on record to say that."
Redskins defensive line coach Jay Hamilton told NJ Advance Media earlier this week that he spoke to Rivera on the phone Monday. Rivera has since denied having such a conversation.
"I did, not with Ron, and we haven't talked since the team plane," Hamilton said. "We have been on the phone and I believe him that we haven't talked in weeks. [Rivera] wouldn't want to be the coach of the Redskins and he's honest enough to say it."
Asked if he had spoken to Rivera about the Redskins, Williams said, "I haven't spoken to him. He came up to me after the game and gave me a hug and told me to call him."
It's unclear whether Rivera will interview with the Redskins. They hold 17 offensive and 14 defensive assistant spots open. The Redskins and Williams have not spoken about where the potential for a future contract extension stands. Williams has made it clear he wants to return. He added that he hopes to meet with Rivera to discuss the possibility of the two working together again.
"We're two really good football players and I hope he comes back," Williams said. "If he comes back, I'll be ready to go. In the short amount of time he's been here I've learned a lot from him and I've grown a lot as a player."