End could come suddenly for career of Packers' ageless wonder Tramon Williams
Ninth in a series on the Packers' unrestricted free agents and their likelihood of remaining with the team.
GREEN BAY - When the Green Bay Packers signed Tramon Williams to a two-year, $10 million contract at age 35 before the 2018 season, they surely would have taken the production he has provided since.
In his second act with the Packers, Williams has effectively been a two-year starter in the preferred nickel defense. He’s the veteran in an otherwise young secondary, a calming influence on the field and in the locker room. Most of all, Williams has stayed remarkably durable.
After he led the Packers with 1,059 defensive snaps in 2018, Williams’ playing time dipped last season. Even still, his 761 snaps (73.1 percent) while starting seven games and playing all 16 provided stability in the secondary. It also set a positive example for younger players. If Williams refused to take off a practice, much less a game, at age 36, how could they?
In his 13th NFL season, Williams was more than a placeholder in the slot. He retained fluidity and athleticism that didn’t reflect his years. The ageless wonder still keeps plugging along at a level of play few his age, at his position, have attained.
So it will be an interesting decision for the Packers with Williams set to enter free agency. He has shown he can still play at a starter’s level. General manager Brian Gutekunst said at the NFL scouting combine he had conversations with Williams regarding the future. Still, no player’s career lasts forever, and a cornerback’s shelf life can be particularly unforgiving. When the end comes, it often comes fast.
The Packers will want to be forward-thinking on when that end might be.
Age next season: 37.
Initially acquired: Signed as a free agent March 22, 2018 (his second stint in Green Bay).
Stats: 2 interceptions, 8 passes defended, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumbles recovered, 39 tackles.
Argument for: If Williams plays at a similar level this fall as he has the past two seasons, re-signing him would maintain a core strength on the roster. Williams would join youngsters Jaire Alexander and Kevin King to give the Packers a solid trio of corners. But Williams is more than a slot corner. Remember, when the Packers traded Ha Ha Clinton-Dix midway through the 2018 season, it was Williams who filled in admirably at free safety. Then, there are the intangibles. The Packers would need to replace more than a slot corner if they do not re-sign Williams. The veteran is the unquestioned leader in the secondary. Williams’ combination of versatility, durability, leadership and experience entering his 14th NFL season — not to mention production — is a rare blend.
Argument against: At some point, Williams will lose the quick-twitch athleticism necessary for life as an NFL corner. It’s a fine line, the difference between being a liability and part of a defense’s success. It can’t be ignored Williams is at an age where most NFL corners stop producing. It’s a short list of players at this position who have performed into their late 30s. There also is a question of what kind of money Williams is willing to accept. No matter how good of a value Williams provided the past two seasons, his next contract is unlikely to be as lucrative as his past one, not at this age.
Quotables: “From the first day he got back here, he’s got that ‘wow’ factor — and he always has — from the first time he was in here. I remember hearing about the stories of him playing on the Green Machine, which was the basketball team that went around and stomped on any team they faced here. We don’t do that anymore, but it was an offseason thing. Just hearing about his athleticism, to the pick-six against Atlanta in the ’11 playoffs to him coming back and continuing to make plays at, for football, an advanced age. Especially for his position, not many guys are able to do it for that long. He got an All-Pro vote this year, which was well-deserved. He’s a very steady guy in the locker room — always has been — but he’s a man of wisdom as well. What helped him out a lot was playing with Charles (Woodson) and being friends with Charles. He has the same type of charisma that Charles has.” — Aaron Rodgers