The Seahawks will lose cornerback Byron Maxwell to the Eagles, as the impending free agent has agreed in principle to a $63 million deal with $25 million guaranteed. To replace one of the primary members of the "Legion of Boom," Seattle has turned to former Titans, Ravens and Eagles cornerback Cary Williams, who will sign a three-year, $18 million deal. The Seahawks made the deal official on Tuesday afternoon. The Eagles released Williams last week to avoid his $6.5 million base salary and $8.17 million cap hit for 2015.
Selected in the seventh round of the 2008 draft out of Washburn University by the Titans, Williams was signed by the Ravens off the Tennessee practice squad in '09 and played through '12 in Baltimore. Williams earned a championship ring in that final season as the Ravens beat the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII, and he parlayed that into a deal with the Eagles. Through two seasons on a decidedly sub-par—defense Philly ranked 20th in Defensive DVOA against the pass in 2013 and 2014—Williams totaled five interceptions and 118 tackles.
That said, general manager John Schneider sounded very excited about the acquisition when he talked to the local media on Tuesday.
"With Cary, it starts first and foremost with his length and his height, his aggressiveness and just the style of play that we have here, playing a lot of press. He’s a guy that last year—well I should say the year that Baltimore won the Super Bowl, he finished the season extremely strong. He had a great year that year, really stood out and that’s the year Philly went after him. When you watched him play against every team’s big players last year like Dez Bryant, right towards the end of the season and then you watch him against [Odell] Beckham with the Giants, they moved him around the field and he played star coverage with him. He was just intriguing. We’re going to miss Maxwell but we had to be ready to go. I think it’s a testament to Coach Carroll, [former secondary coach and current defensive coordinator] Kris Richard, all the guys that have worked so hard with our defensive backs. I mean here’s a sixth-round draft choice that leaves for a monster contract and we’re all going to miss Byron a lot -- we’re very excited for him but we’re also very excited to add Cary. We felt like we needed to do it early because of the competition at the cornerback position, and we feel blessed we were able to finish it up last night.”
According to Pro Football Focus's metrics, Williams gave up 56 catches on 99 targets in 2014, for 757 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions. At 6'1" and 185 pounds, he's a big, physical defender who can run well and trail receivers upfield. The issues that have kept him from becoming a top-level cornerback? Williams struggles to maintain traction with receivers who run angular routes in short spaces—he doesn't have exceptionally quick feet, and it takes a little too much time for him to readjust when a receiver fakes him out. He was also asked to play a lot of off-coverage in Philly, and that's not his strength—Williams is at his best when he's playing press coverage on a receiver from the snap so he can stay close and react as quickly as possible.
Williams can also be faked right out of his boots at times, as new teammate Paul Richardson showed when he had Williams falling off the map with a little jab foot-fake on this play during Philadelphia's Week 14 loss to the Seahawks.
There are other issues as well. Soon after he signed his three-year, $17 million deal with the Eagles, Williams decided to miss OTAs because of several factors—he was getting married, his daughter had a recital and there were home construction issues. Sure it was a non-mandatory practice, but that's not the best way to endear yourself to new teammates or a new coach. And in September 2014, Williams criticized the coaching staff and the team's practice structure after the Eagles lost to the Redskins, a game in which Williams was burned by DeSean Jackson for a deep touchdown.
"I was just trying to conserve as much energy during the week so I can be as effective as I can be on Sundays," Williams said after the game. "It was just such a dogfight. It didn't help that I wasn't healthy through the week and it didn't help that I had a dogfight before the week and then I had a dogfight during the game. It's just tough, man. We have to start taking care of our guys, taking care of our players, doing the right thing from there.
"I'm going to be honest with you: It didn't matter if we had a short week or a long week, it's been the same. Something needs to change for us to be more productive. It's tough enough to go out there and play hard for 60 minutes, let alone having to fight through the week.
"When you don't have legs, period, it shows up in the game. Period. Throughout the game. Period."
Well, if Williams criticizes Pete Carroll's practices in a public fashion, he'll be on the outs. Period.
It's easy to see why the Seahawks' coaching staff sees Williams as redeemable—he fits the physical prototype they like for their cornerbacks, and there are a lot of ostensible scheme fits. And Carroll has no issue with mouthy cornerbacks, as we have seen. But Richard Sherman has backed up nearly every word he's ever uttered, and Williams ... well, hasn't. He'll need to be on his best behavior, because this team has a bunch of alpha dogs in that secondary, and any deviation from the goal will be dealt with harshly. We don't yet know how much guaranteed money is involved in Williams's contract (one would assume $7-8 million with some incentives), but if the Seahawks didn't create an easy escape hatch in this contract, they may have made a big mistake.