It’s a cruel question to ask of anyone, let alone a franchise’s greatest all-time rusher. It’s been a question asked too often throughout DeAngelo Williams’s career, despite a 4.8 yds/carry career average and impressive 9 career TDs over 50 yds (7 rushing + 2 rec). It’s been a while, however, since D-Will took one to the house, and declined production, injury, and Jonathan Stewart’s resurgence will invariably beg the question once again as Williams is scheduled to earn 6 million dollars in 2015.
How much gas is left in D-Will’s tank, and is it worth 6 million dollars? It’s a question complicated beyond just the numbers.
According to the Cap
Cap costs are the driving factor in most personnel decisions, and by the numbers, Carolina gains little cap space by cutting Williams. Even after the June 1st mark, when the financial benefit increases to maximum benefit, the cut frees only 2 million dollars. After factoring in the expense of paying a reliable back-up to support the often injured Jonathan Stewart, it turns out to be a wash. Having a familiar veteran, whose engine still runs steady and who is confident and capable enough to take the reigns in the event Stewart Stewart goes down, seems worth the 2 million dollar expense.
More than just dollars and cents
Cap numbers aren’t the whole story. The human element can’t be removed from this equation. Personal interests of both players and organization are involved, and egos cultivated by the big money, big stakes, and the big pressure of the NFL complicate the numbers.
The past two years have been a harsh reminder of this dynamic. Thorny negotiations between Gettleman and career star, Jordan Gross, the ugly divorce with franchise legend, Steve Smith, both remind that money is just one important part of the picture. Williams and the Panthers will not be different. The outcome can be more pleasant than the Smith affair, but it won’t be void of the human element.
Gettleman recently clarified that “you have to be really careful in this business about being emotional about players.” So while DeAngelo Williams has meant a tremendous amount to this organization, this decision comes down to more than just the gas left in Williams’s tank or even dollars and cents. Ego, opportunity, and personnel development will also determine if Carolina decides to part ways with the life-long Panther.
Considering an individual’s ego doesn’t have to be a negative exercise. Everyone’s got one, and it takes a confident individual with a healthy ego to succeed in a business where most fail. Given Williams’s career success, it’s fair to assume his doesn’t lack self-confidence. Although often under-appreciated, he’s had an impressive pro career, averaging over 4.8 yds/att for his career--a feat statistically superior to Eric Dickerson and O.J. Simpson. Williams also has made a living taking it to the house, racking up a stunning 9 career 50+ yard touchdowns. Tied for 10th all-time in 50+ yard rushing TDs, Williams has hit enough home runs justify his self-confidence. He’s been consistently productive and relatively healthy throughout his career. What’s been perhaps most impressive about Williams’s success it that he accumulated these statistics while splitting carries with Jonathan Stewart.
Will Williams’s ego be a factor in this decision?
Certainly. How could it not?
Williams views himself as more than just a capable and productive back, he views himself as a starter--one who has proven it year in and year out. He’s undeservedly been doubted by coaches and fans all too often throughout his career. He’s always proved the critics wrong, but as of late, however, he’s been more vocal in pointing it out.
Last season, Williams was critical former offensive Rob Chudzinski after his departure to Cleveland, remarking “the last offensive coordinator got rid of his starting running back [Williams].” As his age and productivity again become questions this off-season, he’s responded negatively to journalists suggesting his time in Carolina should be over.
Williams may have had to share a dinner table with Stewart, but he never viewed himself as sitting at the kids table. Williams always looked as the Double Trouble Duo as a partnership.
Williams hasn’t, however, been what what you would classify as egotistical while in Carolina. He’s been rightfully proud throughout his career, but never self-centered. He handled Stewart’s early success well, and seemed to thrive on their relationship. He’s always been an upbeat team first guy.
Perhaps most telling of Williams commitment to the Panthers organization was the restructured contract he accepted last season, saving the Panthers nearly 8 million dollars in cash. Shutdown Corner’s Brian McIntyre reported “prior to restructuring his contract, Williams was scheduled to earn base salaries of $5.75 million in 2014 and $6.75 million in 2015 with $250,000 in annual workout bonuses ($500,000 total) for a total of $13 million. The restructured deal reduces those base salaries to $1.85 million in each season (with up to $750,000 available in undisclosed base salary escalators in each year) with $150,000 in annual workout bonuses ($300,000 total).” Without knowing all of the nuances, it appears Williams sacrificed pay for the betterment of the team. The Panthers were in a tough spot, and Williams accepted a base salary reduction. Given this generosity, it’s doubtful parting ways would be easy.
Ego will play a big part in moving forward with Williams. He’s been productive enough to fight for an important role in the Panthers rushing attack, and his team-first mentality will rightfully command an appropriate respect from Panthers brass. Gettleman referred to Williams as a “pros, pro” during a recent press conference.
Opportunity and Personnel Development
Money and value all point to keeping Williams for another year, but where’s there’s smoke, there’s often fire, and many believe Williams’s tenure is nearing its end.
So where then is the value in parting ways with Williams, if any?
The only legitimate reason would be a desire to accelerate the development of younger players in hopes of ushering in a new era of Panther running backs.
Williams’s resurgence in 2013, and Stewart’s in 2014, was fortunate for the organization. Saddled with big contracts, Carolina entered the 2013 season significantly over the cap. Gettleman, by way of tough cuts and some strong-arm negotiating, performed some much needed emergency roadside assistance. By 2014, things were better, in the aspect that Carolina wasn’t over the cap, but there certainly wasn’t a lot of flexibility. With 21 UFAs, Gettleman looked to tow the Carolina car back to the shop.
Carolina’s late success from a core group of young players on both offense and defense, however, suggests that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Gettleman is installing his plan and vision, one that he believes matches nicely with Rivera’s coaching strengths. Turning the Panther page is a big part of the plan, and the move to get younger and faster may just hit the running back position next.
Hence comes the point where ego, ability, and opportunity clash. If Williams is on this roster, it’s hard to see how any younger guys supersede Williams on the depth-chart granted Stewart remains healthy. Williams, the seasoned vet and savvy blocker, will be a much more consistent and reliable option for Rivera when he wants to give Stewart a breather. Williams won’t look to be a number two for the season either. We can go ahead and bet that he’ll be fighting hard to retake the starting position. The worse case scenario in his mind would be becoming a permanent #2. Anything less, well would likely be absurd in his mind, and hard for the conservative Rivera to justify based on practice, film study, and football understanding alone.
Really, in what world does the the statement, “DeAngelo Williams is third on the depth chart behind Jonathan Stewart and Fozzie Whitaker” make sense? No matter how selfless Williams is, it just doesn’t sound right, nor will it sit right with a “pro’s, pro” ego.
What will decide the matter?
This is the easiest part of the equation--the draft. Drafting at #25, Carolina will have a tough time landing an offensive tackle that truly is the best player available. Gettleman had that opportunity last season, and he passed, and then he passed again in the second.
Carolina needs to upgrade this offense. Adding a wide receiver to compliment Kelvin Benjamin or a dynamic running back could go a long way towards it. At #25 there will be some real play-makers available, especially at running back. Melvin Gordon, Todd Gurley, and Ameer Abdullah are all realistic options at #25. One could even slip to the second.
Williams future in Carolina will ultimately be threatened most if Gettleman moves on a running back in the early rounds. A back before the fourth will likely suggest Carolina will be moving on from their all-time franchise rusher, Williams. This would be one way of maximizing the 2 million dollar savings from cutting Williams. The dollars would go farther if Gettleman could get a back that produces in the draft and then allocate that money towards another contract, possibly Cam Newton’s or a free agent acquisition.
Little of this, however, comes down to just how much gas is left in DeAngelo Williams’s tank. He doesn’t have tons of miles on the engine, despite being considered a classic car in his 30s. The miles he does have are highway miles too. At 1,432 career carries, Williams has less attempts than Leshaun McCoy, a back with three fewere seasons under his belt. The Williams engine still runs reliably, and likely it has some real miles left in it. Like a classic car in good condition, it can still be a fun ride on a sunny day.
Factors beyond Williams’s control will determine his future in Carolina. There’s a real chance, Carolina parts ways with Williams and he goes to another team and produces--much like Steve Smith, minus the theatrics. There’s also a real possibility Gettleman tries to make it through another year without a car payment. If so, look for Gettleman to wait for a 2016 model.
By the Professor aka Tony Dunn
Follow him on Twitter @Cat_Chronicles