Chris Williams is a big-bodied, former first-round talent who’s in the prime of his career and was not going to break the bank as a free-agent.
The Buffalo Bills decided those attributes were a good fit for their left-guard position and signed him Wednesday to a four-year contract worth a total of $13.5 million.
The move addressed the weak link on the Bills’ offensive line. The Bills struggled with Colin Brown, Doug Legursky and Sam Young (briefly) at that spot last season.
Williams, 6-foot-6 and 320 pounds, looks like an upgrade. He can be used to pull, something the Bills didn’t do with the immobile Brown, and he’s far stouter against the bull rush than Legursky.
Is Williams good enough to make the position a strength?
Obviously, Bills coach Doug Marrone, a former offensive lineman and line coach, believes the answer is “yes.” Williams’ deal averages $3.37 million a year, just a shade under the average for Bills right guard Kraig Urbik ($3.65 million).
“With the signing of Chris Williams, I am particularly excited about the direction our offensive line is moving in,” said Bills General Manager Doug Whaley, in a statement. “Because we wanted to address this position, and we feel like we filled the need with a very good player.”
The top guard on the market, Zane Beadles, got $6 million a year from the Jacksonville Jaguars. The next best deal went to Jon Asamoah, who got $4.5 million from Atlanta. On the lower tier, San Diego gave ex-Bill Chad Rinehart $3 million a year. Williams is a better athlete than Rinehart.
However, Williams is unheralded, to say the least. He was a bust as a 2008 first-round pick out of Vanderbilt by the Chicago Bears. After starting for 2½ seasons, he was cut and picked up by the St. Louis Rams.
He rehabilitated himself to a degree by starting 16 games at left guard with the Rams in 2013.
The Rams expressed no dissatisfaction with him, and St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher said the team had “serious interest” in re-signing him.
“He played good, he was solid,” said Fisher. “When you don’t hear his name, you don’t talk about him.”
Not everyone was impressed. ESPN analyst Bill Polian had a low rating on Williams. The website ProFootballFocus.com had Williams as the Rams’ lowest-rated player.
Former Bears scouting chief Greg Gabriel, now an analyst for Bleacher Report and National Football Post, likes Williams.
“He’s a solid player, and a quality kid,” Gabriel said. “When he stays low, he’s darn good coming off the ball.”
Run blocking is considered Williams’ strongest suit.
“I definitely enjoy run blocking more,” Williams said. “I think I’m capable in both areas. But as an offensive lineman being real close to 330 pounds, going forward is a lot better than going backward. But you have to be able to do both to win in this league and compete. It’s all about balance offensively.”
Williams said he viewed his season in St. Louis as a good step forward for his career. He credited Rams line coach Paul Boudreau with helping him.
“I think it helped a lot, working with my coach, coach Boudreau down there, he helped me develop my game as a guard,” he said. “Coming here … I’m just really excited about it and to continue to develop my game. I’m always trying to work to get better. I think it’s a great opportunity here to do that.”
Williams said the winter storm that hit Wednesday did not deter him.
“It’s an opportunity,” he said. “I would go to Antarctica to play for an opportunity. Buffalo is a lot better than Antarctica and I’m just excited to be here.”
“I spent 4½ years in Chicago,” Williams said. “I like the cold weather. I think it’s a true home-field advantage with the fans here and the weather here. Come playoff time, hosting home games, that’s what you want in the cold and snow. It’s hard for teams to come up here and win games. The weather definitely didn’t scare me off.”