And we’re not just referring to the refurbishment of the Metrodome.
A new CBA is likely to see Sidney Rice and Ray Edwards test themselves on the free agent market while Pat Williams came out this week and said he won’t be returning to Minnesota.
To be clear, that’s got nothing to do with the 38-year-old defensive tackle considering retirement; Williams still wants to play for two years. No, this is all about a breakdown in the relationship between Williams and the Vikings organization, and the Vikings’ own desire to get younger.
So in this era of uncertainty, what do we know for sure? Pat Williams is going to be a free agent and he’ll be playing his football somewhere other than Minnesota next year.
Williams entered the league back in 1997 as an undrafted free agent with the Buffalo Bills and has gone onto become one of the most dominant run stuffing defenders in the NFL. That talent has earned him an All Pro selection and three Pro Bowl nods while anchoring the Vikings’ defensive line since 2005.
But what does he have left?
As a pass rusher, Williams offers practically nothing. In fact, in a study yours truly conducted, Williams generated a quarterback pressure on just 1.16% of the 259 times he rushed the passer; the worst number of all defensive tackles who rushed the passer at least 200 times.
Accepting the idea that he’s not a pass rusher, his defensive stops number must be high given how disruptive he is the run game, right? Not quite. In 2010, with 18 defensive stops, Williams finished a mediocre 36th of all defensive tackles.
What Williams offers is far more than anything that shows up on a stat sheet.
A Williams Wall in his own right
A big and powerful defensive tackle, Williams is capable of stacking up linemen, plugging holes, and is surprisingly effective at chasing down runners along the line. The point being that when you try to run at Pat Williams he’s still good enough to make that decision look foolish in a variety of ways.
The list of offensive guards and centers this year that were left dealing with this is as extensive as it is impressive.
In week 5, All Pro center Nick Mangold couldn’t get any push as Williams drove him back. An unheralded part of the Packers’ Super Bowl success, Scott Wells had a great year, but didn’t have a great game in week seven when he tried to get his hands on Pat. And, you want to know a big part of the reason why Olin Kreutz had such a tough year? Two games against Pat Williams – who didn’t just dominate that Bear, but had plenty of fun tormenting Chris Williams as well.
It wasn’t that Williams was perfect. Like many, he had problems with Carl Nicks, and Brandon Moore got the better of him more than he’d care to remember. But, more often than not, Williams was causing problems for offenses rather than standing out as one on an under-performing Vikings D.
Less could be more
As you’d expect, Williams is getting older and isn’t quite playing at his Pro Bowl level of 2009. During that season, he was he was our 2nd ranked defensive tackle in run defense. He dropped to 11th in 2010, although, interestingly, he did play more snaps.
In fact, last year saw Williams increase his amount of regular season snaps by 12.63% on his 2009 total. A significant amount, and one that would help explain why Williams had such a mediocre finish to 2010; only one game tagged with a strongly positive grade in the final six weeks of the season.
His next stop
The conclusion to draw is that, even at 38, Williams could still come in and shore up a team’s run defense. A team just needs to make sure that the soon-to-be former Viking isn’t on the field more than he needs to be. That means yes to goal line looks and two wideout formations, and no to third down passing situations and multiple receiver sets.
Which brings us to the little issue of which teams could use a player like that. One of the more interesting stories could see Pat return to Buffalo and create a whole new Williams wall. Nobody seems quite sure what defense the Bills will be running, but after a 2010 where they were far more 4-3 than 3-4, it would appear the new defense will be even more 4-3 focused. The excellent Kyle Williams could use a clogger at his side, and Pat could fill that role perfectly.
A young team like Tampa Bay could use some talent and experience. Pairing ‘Fat Pat’ with 2010 first round pick Gerald McCoy would plug a hole on a line that struggled at times despite the 10 win season. The Bucs may be getting younger, but you need guys who have been there like Williams, and you’d imagine he could offer more than just what he does on the field.
And then we have a team that I will forever link to talented defensive tackles, only for them to do nothing about it. The Indianapolis Colts. As we watched the Jets pound the middle of the Colts’ line in the Wild Card game, it was clear the problem still existed. The Colts need guys who hold up better at the point of attack. So, who better than this three-time Pro Bowler? A short term measure for certain, but a huge upgrade to a struggling run defense.
A 38-year-old solution
It may not be the most reported story of the month, or even the day. But we live with an NFL that is about the now and, as such, it doesn’t matter that Pat Williams is 38, it just matters that he can still perform.
It’s that performance that is going to make some team’s run defense better than anyone realizes right now.