SNN Roundtable: Marcus Williams Contract Discussion
The New Orleans Saints have several big contract decisions to make over the next two offseasons. Star players like LB Demario Davis, RB Alvin Kamara, TE Jared Cook, DT Sheldon Rankins, and LB Alex Anzalone are among the team's key contributors whose contracts will expire at the end of the 2020 season. Tackle Ryan Ramczyk and CB Marshon Lattimore have had their 5th-year rookie options picked up for 2020 but will have large escalations in their salaries that may cause the front office to get a long-term deal done sooner. One other key contributor to the team's success over the last three years is FS Marcus Williams, whose contract also expires after this season but has largely slipped under the radar of media and fan discussion about an extension.
Taken with a 2nd round pick (42nd overall) in the star-studded 2017 draft, the 23-Yr old Williams has started 51 of the Saints 53 games since entering the league. He has intercepted 10 career passes, including a team-high 4 last season while recovering or forcing 3 fumbles and breaking up 23 passes. Williams will unfortunately be forever associated with “The Minneapolis Miracle”, the 2018 divisional playoff loss to the Vikings on the game's last play, and some other mistakes in big games. Mostly, however, he has been a staple of the New Orleans secondary.
With so many other crucial contract decisions facing the Saints front office, the Saints News Network crew debates the importance of Marcus Williams to the franchise's immediate future.
Unfortunately for Williams, regardless of what he accomplishes throughout his NFL career, his name will forever be attached to one play. “The Minneapolis Miracle”. In his first three years with the Saints, fans have mixed reviews on the play of Williams and if he should be a part of the team’s plans moving forward. When it comes to if the Saints should move forward with Williams as the starting FS for years to come, I feel the answer is very simple, YES! He is an FS with limitless range, an underrated tackler, and a playmaker who forces takeaways in key moments of the game. And while his mistakes have led to big plays and/or touchdowns, Williams is still viewed as one of the league’s best DBs. Don’t believe me? Check out his PFF grades below…
Of all the defensive players in the 2017 NFL Draft, Williams holds the highest PFF grade over the last three years (90.7). That is higher than DBs Desmond King, Eddie Jackson, and Jamal Adams. Williams also posted the second-highest PFF grade amongst all safeties last season at 90.1. Simply put, the Saints have an incredible volume of talented and youthful DBs it would be a huge mistake to not try to keep this group together for years to come. While money may not allow for that to happen, good safeties are hard to find in this league, lock up Williams ASAP.
Marcus Williams gets a bad rap for just a handful of plays that’s happened over the first few seasons of his career. Despite that, Williams has been a strong performer in the analytics world, even dominant last year as Pro Football Focus’ 4th overall graded safety. Playing center field is never easy in the NFL, but Williams’ time with the Saints has shown us he can be a very reliable and consistent player in the secondary.
We cannot say enough good things about the team’s 2017 draft class, and Williams should cash in nicely on his next contract. He’ll only be 24 heading into 2021, and should be even better in the new season alongside Malcolm Jenkins. New Orleans and Williams make a ton of sense for the future. However, the NFL’s salary cap situation makes things a bit more interesting regarding the timing of getting player deals done. It wouldn’t be impossible to see the Saints try to get something done long before free agency hits, but the timing here and now feels a bit premature to get his next contract executed. Williams’ time will come, and New Orleans should be a top suitor for the former 2nd round pick. As we’ve seen plenty of times, the Saints can find the sweet spot for all parties involved, and Williams should continue being a solid staple in the secondary for New Orleans.
KYLE T. MOSLEY
Besides the playoff errors against Minnesota in 2018 and 2020, Marcus Williams has played decent as the Saints’ Free Safety. The challenge for the Saints is a lower cap at $175M in 2021. New Orleans could sign Williams to a cap-friendly deal. All-Pro LB Demario Davis and RB Alvin Kamara's contracts are ending and decisions by the Saints front office are looming. Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis will have an eye on Williams' play this season.
If he has a very productive year, his value will rise in the NFL free-agent market. For example, if Williams can have 8+ INTs and 15+ PDs in 2020 at his position, extending his contract becomes a priority. If he has an average to a slightly above-average year of 5-7 INTs, with 10-14 PDs, the team could consider re-signing him, but allowing him to test the market is an option. Of course, if his production becomes an issue, we may not see him in the Black and Gold in 2021. Nevertheless, re-signing Williams will not be the top priority for the Saints coming into 2021's offseason. Let's just say, 2021 will force Khai Harley, VP of Football Administration, to demonstrate why he is one of the best contract negotiators in the NFL.
I have been critical of Williams for his poor tackling angles and fundamentals, both have which led to key mistakes in some big spotlights. I have also been just as vocal about the playmaking ability he adds to the Saints secondary. Few defensive backs have the range, athleticism, and instincts that Marcus Williams has as a deep safety in the Saints pass defense. Those skills allow players like CB Marshon Lattimore and CB Janoris Jenkins to be more aggressive in press coverage, knowing that they have trusted support behind them. The New Orleans defense puts pressure on Williams by deploying several single-high safety alignments, but his range allows the unit to be more aggressive.
New Orleans should prioritize Demario Davis, Kamara, and extensions for Ramczyk and Lattimore over Williams but should not ignore their talented safety. The team would be wise to approach Williams and his representatives now with a team-friendly deal, while his market value will be lower than some of the league's highest-paid players at the position. Waiting to do so would be a big gamble for the team. If Williams has a big year, then his asking price would undoubtedly rise, potentially putting him out of financial reach for a Saints team with little salary-cap room.