OCTOBER 19: Williams will be ready to go when first eligible. Despite the Saints heading into a Thursday-night assignment, they will not hold out their free agent back to allow for an extended ramp-up period. They intend to activate Williams for tonight’s Jaguars matchup, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport tweets. New Orleans will soon have Williams, Kamara and Miller available for the first time this season. Williams will become the Saints’ first IR activation this season.
Following a standout 17-touchdown campaign with the Lions in 2022, Williams signed a three-year deal with the Saints this past offseason. The veteran was signed to reduce Alvin Kamara‘s workload, but Williams also had a chance at starter reps with Kamara suspended to begin the 2023 campaign.
Williams got plenty of work in Week 1, finishing with 52 yards from scrimmage on 20 touches (including 18 carries). However, the running back suffered a hamstring injury in Week 2 that ultimately required a stint on injured reserve. Third-round rookie Kendre Miller was also sidelined to begin the season thanks to a hamstring injury, forcing the Saints to rely on the likes of Tony Jones Jr. and Adam Prentice to lead their backfield.
Kamara returned in Week 4 and has already collected 285 yards from scrimmage in three games. When Williams is ultimately activated from IR, the duo will form one of the best running back tandems in the NFL, and the Saints will have a high-upside prospect (Miller) serving as the RB3.
September 23rd, 2023 at 6:23pm CST by Adam La Rose
Already without their top running back for one more game this season, the Saints will be particularly thin in the backfield tomorrow. Jamaal Williamswas placed on IR Saturday, per a team announcement.
Williams has been dealing with a hamstring injury, one which forced him to leave the team’s Monday night win early and miss the subsequent week of practice time. He will be sidelined for at least the next four games as a result of this move. With Alvin Kamarastill required to miss one more contest as a result of his three-game suspension, New Orleans will be lacking in experience at the running back spot on Sunday.
With Kamara’s early-season availability in the air, the Saints added Williams on a three-year, $12MM deal in free agency. The latter enjoyed a career-year in 2022 with the Lions, rushing for 1,066 yards and leading the league with 17 touchdowns on the ground. Detroit elected to sign David Montgomeryas their early-down and goal line replacement, though, leaving Williams to venture outside the NFC North for the first time in his career.
The former Packers fourth-rounder got off to a slow start to begin his Saints tenure, turning 27 carries into 74 scoreless yards. That 2.7 yards per carry average falls well short of his previous performances, and an improvement will be expected upon return. With Kamara set to resume lead back duties by the time that is possible, though, Williams will no doubt see a reduced role when he next sees the field.
With neither Kamara nor Williams available, New Orleans will look to third-round rookie Kendre Millerand former UDFA Tony Jones Jr. in the backfield in Week 3. The former has yet to see game action in his inaugural season, while the latter scored a pair of touchdowns and received 13 carries in the team’s win over the Panthers on Monday night. Swiss Army knife Taysom Hillis, as always, another option at the Saints’ disposal with respect to the ground game.
Bringing back Williams will require the usage of one of the Saints’ eight IR activations available throughout the campaign. His return will be welcomed, but it will be interesting to see how the team’s backfield pecking order shakes out over the course of his absence.
Decisions to use No. 12 and No. 18 overall picks on a running back (Jahmyr Gibbs) and an off-ball linebacker (Jack Campbell) brought some scrutiny for the Lions. Another organizational plan would have generated more attention during Round 1.
The Lions were prepared to pounce on Devon Witherspoon if the Seahawks went in another direction, with Albert Breer of SI.com indicating the Lions regarded the Illinois cornerback as a clean prospect. But the Seahawks deviated from their past at the corner position and chose Witherspoon at No. 5, leaving the Lions in a bind.
That predicament stemmed from the team placing a much higher-than-expected value on Gibbs. After the Seahawks drafted Witherspoon, GM Brad Holmes spoke with Dan Campbell about pivoting to Gibbs at 6. While Breer adds the Lions’ initial plan was not to draft the Alabama dual threat that high, they were prepared to do so until the Cardinals called about their trade offer to secureParis Johnson. That move to No. 12 allowed the Lions to pick up draft capital, avoiding a wildly unexpected scenario in which Gibbs went off the board before Bijan Robinson.
Teams’ interest in Gibbs became known during draft week, when reports circulated about some clubs rating former Crimson Tide contributor in the same realm as Robinson. Gibbs topped 440 receiving yards in each of the past two years, and the Lions are prepared to use thee rookie as a multipurpose back to complement David Montgomery. Holmes has acknowledged the positional value-based criticism that has come with selecting a running back 12th overall, and the Lions had the option of drafting Jalen Carter or Tyree Wilson at No. 6. Taking Gibbs over those two pass rushers would have doubled as one of the more fascinating moves in recent draft history, but the Lions added No. 34 and No. 168 to move down six spots.
Detroit did not bring Witherspoon in for a visit, and neither Campbell nor Holmes trekked to Champaign for his pro day. The Seahawks had never drafted a corner higher than 90th (Shaquill Griffin) under the John Schneider–Pete Carroll regime, but Witherspoon will team with Tariq Woolen in Seattle. Witherspoon remaining on the board at 5 helped the Seahawks resist a trade-down urge. The Lions have made a few significant additions to their secondary this offseason, signing Cameron Sutton, C.J. Gardner-Johnsonand Emmanuel Moseley. After the Seahawks chose Witherspoon, the Lions added Alabama DB Brian Branch in Round 2.
The team initially wanted to draft either Witherspoon or Will Anderson Jr. at No. 6, per Breer, and trade up from No. 18 for Gibbs. Trading out of No. 6 obviously reflected Lions hesitancy regarding Carter and the team placing a value gap between Anderson and Wilson. The Lions moving to 12 also kept them in front of two teams they heard were Gibbs fans — the Patriots (No. 14) and Jets (No. 15). A scouting trip to last season’s Alabama-Texas game alerted Holmes to Gibbs, and he will replace D’Andre Swift in the Motor City.
“It’s my job to keep laser-focused on the present but probably even more importantly, keep laser-focused on the future,” Holmes said, via the Detroit Free Press’ Dave Birkett. “And that’s what went into a lot of the decisions with having to make the trade with D’Andre Swift to Philly. He was in the last year of his contract and if I go back to last year, I felt really good about us being able to bring back Jamaal Williams. I felt confident as the season ended. I felt good with our conversations with his camp, and it didn’t happen. So you have to just be prepared for all those things.”
Williams did not speak highly of the Lions’ offer; last season’s rushing touchdowns leader is now with the Saints on a three-year, $12MM deal. Montgomery signed a three-year, $18MM pact with the Lions. He and Gibbs now comprise Detroit’s backfield, with the latter on a first-round contract that could have checked in at a higher draft slot.
While this year’s running back market did not produce a top-10 contract at the position, some interesting dominoes fell. Perhaps none more so than David Montgomery, who left the Bears to be the Lions’ Jamaal Williams replacement.
Chicago’s offer did not include any guaranteed money beyond Year 1 of the deal, Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune notes. Montgomery can collect $2.25MM in additional funds if he is on the Lions’ roster on Day 3 of the 2024 league year. Seeing as it would cost the Lions more than $6MM in dead money to cut Montgomery before that bonus date, it represents a good bet this will be at least a two-year partnership. Only Miles Sanders received more fully guaranteed money among running backs in free agency this year.
“I would just kind of sum it up by saying players do have a choice,’’ Poles said of Montgomery’s decision, via Finley. ‘‘I thought we communicated well. I thought we negotiated well. At the same time, you don’t always know what’s going on in the background. But I thought we did a good job. We were transparent, we were organized and it just — it didn’t happen.”
Montgomery’s $6MM AAV matches the deal Williams played on from 2021-22. Williams said (via NewOrleans.football’s Mike Triplett) the Lions’ offer was disrespectful, leading him to the Saints on a three-year accord worth $12MM ($8.15MM fully guaranteed). The Lions did not pivot to Montgomery, 25, until Williams, 27, rejected their offer. Lions GM Brad Holmes said conversations with Williams’ agent at the Combine led him to believe the parties were closing in on another agreement.
“From a budgeting and planning standpoint pre-free agency, we had an allotment of resources set aside, really for Jamaal,” Holmes said, via the Detroit Free Press’ Dave Birkett. “Didn’t really even really consider another running back higher than that amount of resources that we set aside for Jamaal. And business happens and that’s part of this business and it just didn’t work.
“We tried, but when the market crystallized and it got to a point where David was in play, kind of within the range of resources that we had set aside, then that’s when we went ahead and went forward with David, which we’re extremely excited about.”
The Lions likely offered Williams a deal with similar terms as Montgomery’s, Biggs adds, pointing to the league’s 2022 rushing touchdown leader slightly miscalculating his market. The ex-Packers draftee still landed on his feet with the Saints, though his AAV is down compared to his Lions contract. Williams will move into position as Alvin Kamara insurance. Kamara could face a six-game suspension due to his February 2022 battery arrest.
As both NFC North teams believed they were on track to retain their starting backs, Biggs adds the Vikings also pursued Montgomery. It is unclear if Minnesota made Montgomery an offer, but this interest adds another layer to what has become an intriguing divisional backfield outlook. Dalvin Cook‘s seat remains uncertain, and multiple teams viewed the perennial Pro Bowler as available ahead of free agency. A day Montgomery committed to the Lions, the Vikings gave longtime Cook backup Alexander Mattison a two-year, $7MM deal that comes nearly fully guaranteed.
A day after Mattison’s agreement, the Bears gave D’Onta Foreman a one-year deal worth just $2MM ($1MM guaranteed). Foreman will team with Khalil Herbert in Chicago, though Biggs suggests the Bears adding to their backfield in the draft should not be ruled out. This intra-divisional shakeup involved the upper echelon of free agent backs, as the second wave at the position — from the Dolphins’ duo to Samaje Perine to Devin Singletary to Damien Harris — did not eclipse $3MM guaranteed. It will be interesting to see how the Bears and Lions fare with reshaped backfields.
Jamaal Williams is staying in the NFC. The free agent running back is signing with the Saints, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter (via Twitter).
Williams is inking a three-year deal with the Saints, according to Schefter. The three-year pact is worth $12MM, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport (via Twitter). The deal includes $8MM in guaranteed money.
There was some initial hope that the veteran would end up returning to Detroit next season, but those hopes were seemingly eliminated when the Lions pivoted to David Montgomery. Most recently, Williams was connected to a number of potential suitors, including the Bills, Bengals, Panthers, and Bears, per Tyler Dunne on Twitter.
Instead, Williams will land in a bit of a surprising spot in New Orleans, although he appears to be a natural fit behind Alvin Kamara. Backup running backs Mark Ingram and David Johnson are both free agents, and Williams provides much more upside than that duo either as a change-of-pace RB or as a fill-in to the starter.
Williams made a name for himself in Green Bay, collecting at least 600 yards from scrimmage in each of his four seasons with the Packers thanks in part to his pass-catching ability. He joined the Lions prior to the 2021 campaign and had modest success during his first season with the organization, compiling 758 yards from scrimmage.
The RB was a touchdown machine in 2022. Williams ended up leading the NFL with a whopping 17 rushing touchdowns while adding a career-high 1,066 rushing yards on 262 carries. The Saints shouldn’t expect that kind of production in 2023, although the team will be much less reliant on the RB’s production than the Lions were in 2022.
Per Tyler Dunne of GoLongTD.com, the Bills, Bengals, and Jets are all interested in Williams, who will turn 28 in April and who is due to hit the free agent market on the heels of a 2022 campaign in which he led the NFL with 17 rushing touchdowns (Twitter link). His YPC rate of 4.1 was solid, if unspectacular, and he did not make much of an impact in the passing game (12 catches for 73 yards). Backfield mate D’Andre Swift is the more dynamic receiver, and the Lions utilized him accordingly.
Even if he is not an every-down player, Williams can be a quality addition to just about any rushing attack, particularly if he is deployed in conjunction with a shiftier, outside-the-tackles player. As Dunne observes (via Twitter), the Bills have invested a great deal of draft capital in the RB position in recent years, selecting Devin Singletary (third round, 2019), Zack Moss (third round, 2020), and James Cook (second round, 2022). Moss, though, was traded to the Colts in a deadline deal that brought fellow RB Nyheim Hines to Buffalo, and Singletary is, like Williams, days away from free agency.
After a promising rookie season, Cook could be poised to take on more of a workload in 2023, and the Bills should make more use of Hines, who saw just 66 offensive snaps in nine games with the club. Williams’ physical presence and abilities in short-yardage and goal-line situations would nicely complement the skillsets of Cook and Hines, but with limited cap space, Buffalo may not be able to afford a player like Williams that would represent more of a luxury than a need.
The Jets hope to have Breece Hall back at the top of their RB dept chart in 2023, and while Hall expects to be ready for Week 1 after his terrific debut campaign was cut short by an ACL tear, a proven performer like Williams would allow Gang Green to ease Hall back into action. New York does have 2022 UDFA Zonovan Knight and 2021 fourth-rounder Michael Carter under contract, though both players posted a disappointing 3.5 yards-per-carry average last season.
Meanwhile, the Bengals’ reported interest is notable in light of recent reports suggesting that Joe Mixon‘s days in Cincinnati could be numbered. Mixon has not been particularly impressive from a YPC standpoint since 2018, and the team could save over $7MM by releasing him. However, with the Bengals eyeing another deep postseason run in 2023, it is perhaps more likely that Williams would take over Samaje Perine‘s role as Mixon’s running mate should Cincinnati go that route.
Spotrac estimates that Williams can command a two-year contract worth a little over $4MM per year.
Former Browns and Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield was brought in as an emergency option for the Rams last year after an injury to starter Matthew Stafford and ineffective starts by backup John Wolford. Mayfield would go on to win two of five games for the Rams to end a disastrous season in Los Angeles, but after ending the year as the Rams’ starter, Mayfield is not expected to re-sign in LA, according to Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated.
Breer posits that Mayfield will only want to play for a team that will allow him to compete for the starting quarterback job or for a system in which he believes he can unseat the starting quarterback. This could see the former Heisman winner headed back to Texas in Houston or any potential sites such as Atlanta, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Pittsburgh, or Tampa Bay. As long as Stafford remains in Los Angeles, though, it appears that Mayfield will not want to remain as a solidified backup.
Here are a few other free agency rumors from around the conference:
Following an incredible breakout season in Detroit, there is reportedly mutual interest between the Lions and Jamaal Williams in signing a new contract, according to Nolan Bianchi of The Detroit News. The statement comes from Lions executive vice president and general manager Brad Holmes who discovered the interest during preliminary discussions with unrestricted free agents. Williams led the league with 17 rushing touchdowns last season while also recording career-highs in touches (274) and total yardage (1,139).
Another Lion bound for free agency, versatile defensive end John Cominsky is set to earn an impressive new contract following a breakout year in Detroit. According to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo, Cominsky could earn over $5MM per year in a new deal. Waived last offseason by Atlanta, Cominsky received plenty of interest on the waiver wire with eight teams reportedly submitting claims. It’s no question of why as the defensive lineman’s breakout season came as he played through a broken thumb.
Following his first season in San Francisco, the 49ers are reportedly interested in bringing back veteran safety Tashaun Gipson, according to Matt Barrows of The Athletic. Gipson had a resurgent season in the Bay Area reeling in five interceptions and returning them for a total of 141 yards, harkening back to his first few years in Cleveland. Gipson and longtime 49er Jimmie Ward are both bound for free agency, and San Francisco will likely strive to bring one of them back to start alongside second-year safety Talanoa Hufanga who earned first-team All-Pro honors in 2022.
Cardinals starting right tackle Kelvin Beachum is currently headed towards free agency after three years in Arizona. Freelance journalist and former Cardinals staff writer Mike Jurecki would like to see Arizona re-sign the veteran heading into his age 34 season, but it’s a big ask for a team that has capable starters in D.J. Humphries and Josh Jones at tackle. With two players already under contract, it’ll be difficult to convince the Cardinals’ brass to bring Beachum back. Beachum may have priced himself out of Arizona as Jurecki points out that there will certainly be a market for the veteran who is still playing well.
The 2021 Lions saw injuries nag at their running backs room throughout the season last year and were forced to rely on the backs they had stashed further down on the roster. Coming into the 2022 NFL season, Detroit’s running backs room looks mostly the same, but improving health could leave some contributors from last year as the odd man (or men) out.
There’s obviously no question atop the Lions’ depth chart at running back. Despite his lack of starts last season, D’Andre Swift dominated the position’s snap count totals. He was nearly matched in rushing statistics by the team’s No. 2 back, but Swift played a much more impactful role in the passing game, catching 62 passes for 452 yards and two touchdowns. That No. 2 back was Jamaal Williams, picking up a role he held for four years across the division in Green Bay. Williams rushed for 601 yards, to Swift’s 617, on 153 carries, an amount almost identical to Swift’s 151. While not quite as impactful, Williams was still effective receiving out of the backfield, adding 26 catches for 157 yards.
Swift and Williams are set to return to their roles at the top of the depth chart and, perhaps, improve on them. Swift’s health is paramount to his potential impact. If he can stay on the field, many in Detroit’s camp believe he could be a Pro Bowler after his third year in the league. He’s spent a lot of time with running backs coach Duce Staley analyzing where he can improve, and his first two seasons have proven he is a much more dangerous weapon receiving the ball than anyone saw during his college years. Williams is a great complement to Swift. He’s a tough back with experience to help lead the youthful position group.
Now behind those two, four running backs are left to compete for one or two roster spots. Godwin Igwebuike may have the clearest line to a roster spot. Despite entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent four seasons ago, Igwebuike made his first rush attempt last season. He ended the year with only 18 total carries (though one of those carries was a 42-yard touchdown), but he really made his impact as the Lions’ primary kick returner. His special teams experience gives Igwebuike a bit of an edge over the other three fighting to make the 53-man roster.
Even if Igwebuike’s role as a return man solidifies his job, the Lions entered the 2021 season with four running backs on the roster. If they were to do the same in 2022, Craig Reynolds, Jermar Jefferson, and undrafted rookie Greg Bell would be the ones competing this summer for that final spot.
Reynolds appeared in games with Washington and Jacksonville after going undrafted in 2019, but finally got a chance to show his stuff last season in Detroit. When Swift and Williams were both ruled out for the team’s Week 14 matchup against the Broncos, Reynolds was elevated from the practice squad. After amassing 83 yards on 11 carries, Reynolds was given the opportunity to start the following week versus the Cardinals. Reynolds answered the call with a 112-yard game on 26 carries, helping the Lions beat Arizona as massive underdogs. Reynolds’ role was relegated a bit after the return of Williams, but Detroit still seems to like what he can offer as they gave Reynolds some run with the first-team offense in OTAs this spring.
Despite the opportunities provided by the injuries to Swift and Williams, Jefferson failed to find his way to the field much as a rookie last season. As a freshman in college, Jefferson excelled with 1,380 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns. Injuries and COVID-19 limited his production over the next two years, but he still found himself on the Lions’ draft board on May 1st of last year. In order to secure a roster spot, Jefferson is going to have to find a way to contribute as a pass catcher or a pass blocker, roles he didn’t perform much in college. Otherwise, Jefferson may find himself on the outside looking in come September.
Bell took advantage of the extra year of eligibility afforded to college players due to COVID-19 last year and earned himself an opportunity as an undrafted free agent in Detroit. In his final college season, Bell rushed for 1,091 yards and 9 touchdowns on 245 carries. He was virtually non-existent in the passing game for San Diego State, though. He has some impressive rushing tools that force the Lions to keep him in the conversation, but he has a lot of work to do to ensure a spot on the final 53-man roster.
Swift and Williams are cemented in their roles. Igwebuike and Reynolds have shown how they can contribute. Jefferson and Bell are young, promising backs that will attempt to wreak a little havoc in the personnel decisions that face Detroit. They’ll all have lots to prove this summer leading into the regular season.
After a shocking win over the Cardinals yesterday, the Lions will be looking to carry that momentum into next weekend’s game against the Falcons. Unfortunately, Detroit might have to go for their second-straight win without their starting QB. The Lions announced today that they’ve placed quarterback Jared Goff on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
While things certainly haven’t gone right in Detroit this season, the team’s struggles aren’t entirely Goff’s fault. The 27-year-old has completed 67 percent of his passes this year for 3,007 yards, 17 touchdowns, and eight interceptions. He’s also been victim to a career-high 34 sacks for the 2-11-1 Lions.
Goff was forced to miss Week 11 against the Browns, and backup Tim Boyle ended up throwing for only 77 yards and two interceptions in the loss. If Goff isn’t able to play this weekend, there’s a chance Boyle gets another start for Detroit.