A lot has been written about likely changes the Cincinnati Bengals will undergo this offseason. As the Bengals strive to get younger, potentially retain players like Carl Lawson and William Jackson III, and to sign other pieces in free agency, Cincinnati will almost certainly be saying goodbye to a pair of icons in A.J. Green and Geno Atkins.
But little has been said about the fate of one of the Bengals’ most vocal leaders and valuable defenders: Shawn Williams.
In 2019, Williams led all Cincinnati defenders with 112 tackles, recorded one sack, an interception, and three passes defensed. He started all 16 games and was in on 93.6 percent of the defensive plays. He also recorded a pair of tackles on 143 special teams snaps.
But then came 2020, and Vonn Bell was added to the secondary. The Bengals’ signed the former Ohio State and New Orleans Saints standout to a three-year, $18 million contract that basically relegated Williams to a back-up role.
Williams, Cincinnati’s third-round selection in the 2013 NFL Draft, accepted the demotion with his usual stoicism, and attacked his new responsibilities with the kind of single-minded dedication that saw him elected a team captain.
“Great teammate,” said Williams’ secondary coach, Robert Livingston. “Great team guy and a good leader. Everything you want. He’s probably made me a better coach and done more for me than I’ve done for him, so I’m forever grateful. He asks good questions. Always prepared.”
Williams recorded seven tackles on special teams in 2021 and was featured on a pair of fake punts. In Week 10 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Williams took a direct snap on fourth-and-13 from the Bengals’ own 34-yard line and turned it into a 39-yard gain.
A couple weeks later, Williams did the same thing and ended up with a 7-yard gain and a first down against the New York Giants.
But the recognition that Williams is probably the proudest of came after Week 7 when he earned the NFLPA’s Community MVP Award after delivering $100,000 worth of Chromebooks to high school students and their families in his old neighborhood, Blakely, Georgia.
Williams raised $20,000 toward the purchase of 250 devices, and donated the remaining $80,000 out of his own pocket.
The next stop for Williams remains to be seen, but what kind of effort he will give wherever he ends up is not. Whether it is on the field, on the sidelines, or in the community, Williams will give his all.