With free agency set to open March 11, we’ll shine the spotlight on the Bears’ free agents and examine each player’s likelihood to return. Next up is middle linebacker D.J. Williams.
Position: Middle linebacker
Age (As of Sept. 1, 2014): 32
NFL seasons logged (with Bears): 10 (1)
2013 stats: Played in 6 games with 4 starts before tearing pec muscle against Giants. He had 27 tackles, 2 sacks and 4 tackles for loss.
Quotable: “What makes me want to come back? I like these teammates, the coaching staff. I love the energy of this city. Being in Denver prior, to come here, it felt good to come to another city where football is so important. So that’s a big thing for me. And I like the defense and the way it’s set up. … I know I still have a good amount of years left in me. I still have talent. So if I didn’t end up here, I’ll end up somewhere else – even though I would love to stay here.” – Williams to reporters on 12-30 (via Chicago Tribune).
“D.J. Williams came in and provided leadership in terms of his motor, his effort and his physicalness. … The pro football game is about talent and playing together as a team and having weapons and when the players that are playmakers make plays, they become leaders. And when D.J. came in as he was developing, I believe in his last game he had 11 tackles, he had become a leader.” – Phil Emery on 1-2
Fit with the Bears: As Emery and Trestman both alluded to, the team’s defense — especially against the run — was better with Williams in the lineup. With Jon Bostic likely moving to an outside linebacker spot, Williams fits well, as the team currently lacks an inside linebacker. Williams has played in both the 4-3 and 3-4 in his career, and that versatility should help his cause, as the Bears figure out what kind of defensive front to employ. However, Williams’ age is not ideal for a “D” that wants to get younger.
Financials: Last season, Williams signed a one-year deal with a base salary of $900,000 and incentives based on games active. He played in only six contests because of the torn pectoral muscle.
Looking ahead to 2014, it would be difficult for Williams to seek more than a one-year deal, having played only 13 games in the past two seasons and considering his age and durability. Remember, he missed all of the preseason with a calf injury. He may look to receive another “prove it” contract to stay healthy for a full season, and that wouldn’t be too lucrative. The Bears clearly valued his presence and, without an inside linebacker, could be the team that pays Williams.
Best guess: If we’re to assume Bostic and Shea McClellin are your options at outside linebacker, the Bears need someone in the middle, and Williams was effective before getting hurt. If they can bring him back for cheap and continue to take some pressure off the youngsters, it would definitely bolster the defense. On the other hand, why re-sign a player who was injured twice and will be 32 when your goal is to get younger on defense?
There seems to be more of a need for Williams to return compared to some of the other Bears free agents. It will all come down to the financials and if the Bears think they can go cheaper and younger, while still getting better at the position.