A few more thoughts and notes on the Seahawks’ decision to release cornerback Cary Williams on Monday.
It was only a matter of time. It had become evident over the last few weeks that Seattle was going to release Williams eventually, whether it was now or during the offseason. The Seahawks benched him in Week 11 then de-activated the last two games even though he wasn’t injured, an indication of the degree to which they had already begun to move on. Williams struggled both with the technique that Seattle has its cornerbacks play and with his assignments in zone coverage. The latter was the last straw in Seattle’s decision to bench Williams in the third quarter against San Francisco. There was no way the Seahawks were going to bring Williams back next season considering he had lost his starting job and was scheduled to carry a cap number north of $6 million in 2016. However, there was no financial incentive to release him now as opposed to waiting until the offseason as his first-year salary was guaranteed. That’s why it seemed possible that Seattle could stash him on the bench for the rest of the season in case of an injury to a starter. But that was about the only value Williams had considering he didn’t provide anything on special teams or flexibility as an option at nickelback, and that understandably wasn’t enough to justify a roster spot.
Financial ramifications. Williams will end up costing the Seahawks $7 million (a $3.5 million signing bonus plus a $3.5 million 2015 base salary), which was the guaranteed portion of the three-year, $18 million deal he signed as a free agent over the offseason. Because Williams’ first-year salary was guaranteed along with his signing bonus, his release won’t save Seattle any money against the salary cap until next season. The savings next season will be $3,833,333. Here’s the breakdown: Williams’ $5 million base salary plus $1,666,667 in signing-bonus proration would have amounted to a $6,166,667 cap number for 2016. The Seahawks will have to eat $2,333,334 in dead money, which is the final two years of his signing-bonus proration. So Williams’ cap number ($6,166,667) minus the dead money ($2,333,334) equals the net savings against the 2016 salary cap ($3,833,333). In some cases, teams can spread out the dead money on a terminated contract over two years, but the Seahawks would have had to wait until the start of the new league year to release Williams in order to have that option (thanks to cap/contract guru Brian McIntyre for clarification on that rule).
Seahawks’ CB options. Releasing Williams now is a further vote of confidence in DeShawn Shead as the new starter at right cornerback and an indication that Seattle believes nickelback Jeremy Lane is a viable option there as well. Marcus Burley has mostly played in the slot while rookie fifth-round pick Tye Smith has yet to play a defensive snap this season, so Lane would likely move outside if either Shead or Richard Sherman were injured. Coach Pete Carroll also said Monday that Lane will push Shead for playing time. Seattle felt Lane was a better Plan B at cornerback than Williams even though it’s not his normal position. The Seahawks could use their open roster spot to add another cornerback, either one from their practice squad or off the street.
Williams’ attitude. Seattle would have had further reason to release Williams now if his attitude had become an issue, which easily could have been the case given the circumstances. But there was no indication that happened. Williams, for instance, remained engaged on the sideline once he was benched against San Francisco. After the game, he accepted responsibility and vowed to compete to win his job back while answering every question from reporters. The next week, he appeared to be intently studying on his team-issued tablet when the media was allowed in the locker room. Carroll’s comments on Monday supported those visuals. “He was a real pro. He was a real pro,” Carroll said. “He worked hard in practice and all of that. His attitude was excellent. It didn’t change him at all. He was fine.”
Can veteran CBs adjust? The Seahawks’ swing-and-miss on Williams raises an interesting question about why Seattle has had so little success with cornerbacks who weren’t homegrown. Brandon Browner (a CFL import) and Marcus Trufant (a holdover from the previous regime) are the only cornerbacks who weren’t drafted by the current regime to have any significant impact with the Seahawks. Williams, Antoine Winfield and Will Blackmon (twice) were all free-agent additions who didn’t stick. Could it be a matter of the time it takes to master the technique that Seattle teaches at that position? Every drafted cornerback that has panned out for Seattle under its current regime had time to develop before playing regularly on defense whereas free agents are usually brought in to contribute right away. Carroll even identified that as part of the problem with Williams, saying: “It was a short amount of time to try to catch up with all of the real specifics of our technique.” Asked if Seattle will have to be aware of that with veteran cornerbacks in the future, Carroll said: “Possibly.”