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.
Todd Gurley left his Lions visit without a deal, but head coach Dan Campbell says the one-time superstar is still in consideration (Twitter link via ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter). Meanwhile, Campbell says the Lions’ interest in Gurley is not a reflection on any of the team’s current running backs.
“Look, we have interest in Todd. We do. We’re talking with him and his agent. But just because we have interest in him that does not affect our feeling and our thoughts on both (D’Andre Swift) and (Jamaal Williams). It does not.”
Gurley was a two-time All-Pro for the Rams, racking up 40 all-purpose touchdowns between 2017 and 2018. But, due to knee trouble, he posted just 3.8 yards per tote and 6.7 yards per catch in 2019. Last year, he was held to just 3.5 yards per carry with the Falcons while adding 25 grabs for 164 yards.
Ultimately, Gurley profiles as a potential low-risk, high-reward signing for the Lions. And, if things don’t work out, Gurley still has several months to find his next NFL home.
While Aaron Jones will set the market for running backs this offseason, another major member of the Packers backfield will also be entering free agency. As Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal writes, running back Jamaal Williams “never received an in-season offer from the Packers” and is set to hit free agency. Wilde also reports that Williams recently changed representation, hiring agent Bardia Ghahremani.
The 25-year-old running back has had a consistent role in the Packers offense since entering the league in 2017. This included a 2020 campaign where he ran for 505 yards and two touchdowns on 119 carries while adding 31 receptions for 236 yards and one score. He compiled another 110 yards from scrimmage in the playoffs.
Perhaps most importantly, Williams has also served as Aaron Rodgers‘ top blocking running back, with the quarterback praising the production of the fourth-year pro.
“Obviously I’m a big Jamaal Williams fan, not just his play but his energy and the person he is,” Rodgers said (via Wilde). “He’s a do-it-all guy. He’s a slasher, he hits the hole, he’s also great out of the backfield, he’s got really good feet.”
The Packers have leaned heavily on the Jones/Williams tandem in recent years, but the team could be forced to look for cheaper alternatives to fill out their depth chart. In the event that both running backs end up leaving for big-money deals, Green Bay would likely give the reigns to 2020 second-rounder AJ Dillon.