The Detroit Lions found themselves in a somewhat desperate spot at defensive tackle this offseason. After letting A’Shawn Robinson get paid in Los Angeles and coming to a “mutual agreement” to part ways with Damon Harrison Sr., Detroit was suddenly out of starting interior defenders from last season. Given how they played in 2019, maybe that’s a good thing, but they still had to find talented players to come in and play this year.
And that’s where Detroit may have gotten a little drastic with their free agent spending. Though handing Danny Shelton—a 26-year-old player with experience in the system—a two-year, $8 million contract remains financially responsible, inking Nick Williams to a two-year, $10 million deal is much more questionable.
That’s why he lands at No. 4 on the Lions’ worst salary cap hits for the 2020 season.
Reminder: This list is only based on 2020 cap hits, not the entirety of the contract.
4. Nick Williams
2020 cap hit: $4.3 million
2020 cap hit ranking: 34th among defensive tackles
Williams is a terrific story. A former seventh-round pick, Williams has always had to fight for a place in the NFL. And in 2015, three years into his NFL career, it finally paid off. He got his first significant action on defense that year with the Chiefs and produced nine tackles, two tackles for loss and three quarterback hits—modest but solid contributions from a part-time rotational player.
From there, Williams still had to fight for a job, and in 2017, it looked like his fight had finally ended. He was cut by the Dolphins prior to Week 1 and did not land anywhere for the rest of the season.
After a year off, he found his way back onto an NFL roster with a very talented Chicago Bears defense. Though he was initially cut amidst the 53-man roster building process, he was signed back just a day later and remained on the active roster all season. He didn’t get much playing time in 2018—just appearing in two games, but it was all setting up for 2019.
He re-signed in Chicago in 2019, and after Akiem Hicks suffered an injury that landed him on injured reserve, Williams finally had his shot as an NFL starter. Last year, not only did Williams play in all 16 games for the first time in his career, but he made his first career start in the league—and made four more before the year was over. He also notched his first NFL sack (and totaled 6.0 on the season), racked up 42 tackles and nine quarterback hits. He produced a solid 67.7 PFF grade, ranking him 53rd among 86 qualifying interior defenders.
And while I can’t take anything away from Williams’ 2019 season—it was truly a great season for a player that had not seen significant playing time for the majority of his five-year career—there’s still not a lot to suggest Williams should be a full-time starter in the NFL. He was a clear step down from Hicks last year in Chicago, and even the Bears had him as mostly a rotational player in 2019—hence the veteran minimum contract last year ($805,000).
As good as 2019 was for Williams, I’m not sure it justifies the significant pay raise that the Lions gave him. Remember that Williams was playing next to some pretty talented defenders in Chicago. Think Eddie Goldman, with Khalil Mack and Roquan Smith coming off the edge. He won’t have that kind of arsenal in Detroit.
That being said, Williams will likely have the opportunity to prove his doubters wrong. He’ll undoubtedly find significant playing time in Detroit—splitting snaps and starts with Da’Shawn Hand. He’s a well-rounded player that can both rush the passer and defend the run. But with only one year true production in the NFL, it’s hard to justify giving a 30-year-old player a contract that puts him ahead of the likes of Dontari Poe ($3.9M cap hit), Vita Vea ($4.0M), Da’Ron Payne ($3.9M), and even Danny Shelton ($2.75M).
Top 5 Detroit Lions worst salary cap hits for 2020:
5. Danny Amendola
4. Nick Williams