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Will Darious Williams become a top-paid cornerback in 2022?

The Rams might not be able to retain one of the fastest-rising players in the league

NFL: JUN 10 Rams Practice Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

“How good would Darious Williams be without Jalen Ramsey or in a different defense?”

It’s the question that everybody is really asking right now when it comes to LA’s number two cornerback. If we focus on the last 19 games, ever since the moment that Williams stepped in for 61 defensive snaps against the Cowboys, we see a player who has mastered his assignments.

In those 19 games, Williams has 18 passes defensed, six interceptions, and one of the lowest passer ratings allowed in the NFL. That doesn’t include the playoffs, where Williams had two passes defensed and a pick-six against the Seahawks in the wild card round.

If Williams had been a 21-year-old first round pick in 2018, rather than a former undrafted free agent out of UAB and approaching 28, we might be talking about him as the franchise’s best decision since Aaron Donald. In that scenario, it could be easy to envision Williams on the verge of a record-breaking contract for cornerbacks.

In the scenario in which we live, Williams might be just as good of a cornerback, but how much money will it cost to him to have not entered the NFL with hype and to have emerged as a late bloomer? A late bloomer whose entire run of success has come opposite of the league’s best cornerback.

How much doubt has that placed in the minds of the Rams, the spectators, and the NFL? You think there’s no difference? I would disagree because if Williams was a 24-year-old former first round pick, it’s hard to imagine how any team wouldn’t have taken a stab at him in free agency this year. Because he was undrafted, Williams was a restricted free agent this year and the Rams placed the first round tender on him.

This may have been what scared some teams off from pursuing Williams — signing him would have meant sacrificing a first round pick — but consider that the Rams sacrificed two first round picks for Jalen Ramsey.

Williams has not been put in that same realm of Ramsey, and rightfully so, but how will the other 31 teams view Williams if he has another exceptional season in 2021?

Last year, the Rams made Ramsey the highest-paid cornerback in the league, signing him to a five-year, $100 million contract. In October, the Ravens came in just under that, giving Marlon Humphrey a deal at $19.5 million per season.

But a better comp for Williams might be James Bradberry, especially since Bradberry had so much success in his first season with the Giants last year. Bradberry, a late second round pick in 2016 out of Samford, entered free agency in 2020 after four quality seasons with the Panthers. He was coveted, but not to an insane degree, and New York paid him $43.5 million over three seasons.

With a much higher cap in 2022 than when Bradberry entered the market in 2020, Williams might be able to get more than $50 million over three seasons. A $16-$17 million APY places him in the same range as Xavien Howard, Byron Jones, and Darius Slay.

It’s hard to imagine how LA would be able to pay that but another third round compensatory pick could be coming their way in 2023.