The Bengals signed another young player who they believe is part of their future core of stars. While it was a surprise, should it be deemed a pleasant one?
On Tuesday, news broke that the Bengals followed a recent trend and extended one of their young players for the foreseeable future. Shawn Williams, who is slated to be a full-time starter for the first time in his four-year career in 2016, signed a four-year deal worth up to $21.5 million. The breakdown has the deal at $19.5 million, with an additional $2 million in incentives and just $4 million of the deal guaranteed.
The deal comes as a bit of a surprise, as Williams has only started four games in his NFL career--all of which were last year and in relief of injured starters. Still, the Bengals again used the offseason to lock up who they view as a valuable commodity going forward, showing a strong belief Williams can carry the torch after Reggie Nelson's departure.
Still, the Bengals run the risk of the extension being a bust. Did they make a smart move, or is it a major roll of the dice in an attempt to replace a six-year starter?
Why the deal makes sense:
Williams' Marked Improvement and Growth in 2015: Coming out of college, Williams was known as an in-the-box safety who needed major grooming to be an effective pass defender. After mostly manning special teams duties in his first two seasons, Williams stepped in to start four games for the Bengals and logged two interceptions and five passes defended. His first interception of the season was essentially an acrobatic game-clincher at Pittsburgh, and while he has other youngsters looking to get time behind him, the team has faith in his abilities as a starter.
Locking up Both Starting Safeties: Along with Williams' four-year deal, George Iloka signed a five-year deal to remain in Cincinnati this offseason. If Williams ends up panning out, it ensures the team has two quality starting safeties for the foreseeable future. Williams just turned 25 and Iloka recently turned 26-years-old, so their best football should be within the scopes of their respective deals.
Value: The Bengals got a pretty team-friendly deal with Iloka, whose deal averages out at $6 million per season, but even more so with Williams, whose deal averages just under $5 million per year. That ranks Iloka as the 13th highest paid safety and Williams around 19th, per Spotrac. While the overall number seems high for the position and on a relatively unproven player, the $4 million guaranteed gives the team an easy bailout.
Surrounding Defensive Talent: Propping up Williams as he jumps into a huge role for 2016 and beyond is an enormous amount of defensive talent. Whether it's the four first round cornerbacks manning the outside, the talented Iloka flanking him or the refreshed pass rush with the return of Michael Johnson last offseason, Williams should have a larger margin for error than most players entering a similar situation.
Enforcer in the back: Williams is a hitter and that kind of presence is needed with the offensive weaponry in the AFC North. Nelson did everything pretty well, so Williams has big shoes to fill, but with the 6'4", 225-pound Iloka, receivers will think twice about going across the middle.
Why the deal doesn't make sense:
$50 Million invested in Safeties?!: If you thought the Bengals shouldn't have invested huge money at wide receiver this offseason, what's the logic behind huge money at safety? The MMQB's Andy Benoit did a great piece showcasing the league's devaluation of the position, so big money at a position that normally isn't drafted highly or paid well is a big head-scratcher.
Big Money on an Unproven Player: While the guaranteed money is low and and Williams' new contract is a team-friendly one, this type of money on a player with four NFL starts is a little nerve-racking. On average, Williams is making a little more per year than Nelson on his recent deal with the Raiders (he's at $4.25 million on average). While Williams is seven years younger than Nelson, it's still surprising given Nelson's 2015 Pro Bowl campaign.
Other Talented Youngsters take a Backseat: Obviously we have to trust the team on its decision of believing in Williams long-term, but guys like Derron Smith and Josh Shaw will likely continue to be buried on the positional depth chart. While I might be placing too much faith in those two, who are also very unproven, it's not like they're getting passed up by a battle-tested veteran with a long resume.
While the deal has more positives than negatives in my eyes, the quality of the cons may outweigh the quantity of the pros. As with any contract, there is a roll of the dice on many factors. Will Williams get complacent after receiving a big deal as more of a default in the team's loss of Nelson? Or, will he be hungry to prove himself with the low guaranteed money and thrive in an excellent defense? For now, we'll give the benefit of the doubt to the team's logic, but will anxiously await the results on the field in a few short months.