The offseason is already here for the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams, and they have a number of key free agency decisions to make in the coming weeks.
One of the most important of these decisions will be whether the team plans to employ cornerback Darious Williams moving forward, or if the Rams expect him to sign elsewhere. Williams has been a stalwart in the Los Angeles secondary over the past two seasons and ever since the Rams adopted the Vic Fangio-Brandon Staley style of defense. While Williams has played well in this scheme, a number of teams around the league are also looking to deploy this defensive approach - which could make the corner a hot commodity in free agency.
Darious Williams picks off Daniel Jones and the Rams seal the deal!— The Athletic NFL (@TheAthleticNFL) October 4, 2020
Williams’ career as a starter in Los Angeles also coincides with Jalen Ramsey’s first two full seasons with the Rams. It’s fair to question how well Williams would perform opposite a lesser starting corner and whether he is ready to take on a role that brings heightened levels of responsibility.
The future seemed bright for the young corner after the 2020 NFL season - Williams recorded four interceptions and seemed to have a knack for making big plays in big games. Most of his interceptions in 2020 were difficult catches, and he picked off a screen pass for a touchdown in the playoffs against the Seattle Seahawks and Russell Wilson.
Between the 2020 and 2021 seasons the Rams indicated that they hoped to extend Williams. In April 2021 general manager Les Snead seemed optimistic the corner would remain with the team “for a long time”, though his play in 2021 would later complicate those matters:
“I think it’s obvious Darious is obviously someone you’d love to be a Rams for a long time. We will definitely begin having those discussions internally... Darious has proven to be a good player... Give him credit, give our coaches credit for developing him and having the courage to put him out there and then give him credit for making the most of that opportunity.”
Did Williams blow his opportunity for an extension with the Rams by playing poorly in 2021? Not necessarily, though he certainly did not continue his level of play from the 2020 season. Williams is an unheralded player - a former waiver claim that the Rams have been able to reap incredible value from; however, corner is an expensive and risky position to invest in.
It’s been awesome to see #Rams CB Darious Williams carve out an NFL career.— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) January 9, 2021
Crazy backstory. Should’ve been drafted out of @UAB_FB but wasn’t. 5 INTs this season, including a pick-six in the playoffs. My draft report summary: pic.twitter.com/Fn6sgHxxiW
In other words, while Williams’ Cinderella success story is heartwarming, he also had short leash before he turned back into a pumpkin. The Rams have now seen both the exciting upside and the dramatic downside of their free agent corner, but which way do you project future performance after two seasons of very different levels of play?
Would the Rams prefer to let Williams walk rather than make an investment in a a player that has shown such volatile returns in just two seasons?
As @VishKumaran stated yesterday, what we are seeing from Deebo Samuel is one of the most impressive individual seasons in NFL history— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) January 11, 2022
Such a special player, his impact on this team is immeasurable pic.twitter.com/8unB3TFlxZ
Pro Football Focus (PFF) ranked their top 200 free agents and then predicted where the top 50 individuals would sign. Williams made the list at number 36, and PFF predicted he would sign with the Minnesota Vikings for a contract worth three years and $40 million.
The Vikings make sense for Williams, as former LA offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell is now their head coach. O’Connell hired Ed Donatell, a former assistant to Vic Fangio with the Denver Broncos, as his defensive coordinator and the Vikings seem intent on implementing the defensive system that Williams knows well.
There will be other teams that run the Fangio-Staley style of defense who will be interested in Williams, such as the Los Angeles Chargers, the Green Bay Packers, the Broncos, and the Cincinnati Bengals.
One free agent who would make a ton of sense for the Broncos is Darious Williams, who played corner for Ejiro Evero with the Rams.— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) February 25, 2022
If the Rams let Williams walk, they could look to some internal replacements - though they should also seek external reinforcements as well. David Long, Jr., a fourth-year corner out of Michigan, struggled early in the 2021 season before playing well down the playoff stretch. Los Angeles also drafted Robert Rochell in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft, though it may be unfair for him to enter his second season with the expectations of a full-time starter.
Corner is an expensive position if you’re looking for a starting contributor, but the Rams may be able to come across some value in reclamation projects - whether due to injury or a poor schematic fit in their previous stop.
The Rams’ plan for Williams will tell us a great deal about the team’s strategy for the off-season. Will they be able to extend the corner, or will LA be looking for a potential replacement?