As the NFL juggernaut steams toward the most exciting part of the season, General Managers are spending time formulating various virtual team roster models that stretch out as many as three years into the future, beginning with the 2017 league year. One of the important components of a roster model involves decisions revolving around unrestricted free agents.
We have followed the weekly play of interior defensive linemen that signed new contracts in 2016. Keeping with the NT/DT theme, I want to peer into the contract future of the top interior linemen that are set to become UFA’s after the 2016 season ends.
The seven gentlemen we will evaluate are a mix of 3-4 and 4-3 defense players: Nick Fairley, Johnathan Hankins, Bennie Logan, Dontari Poe, Kawann Short, Brandon Williams and Sylvester Williams.
Today’s featured subject is Denver Broncos nose tackle Sylvester Williams.
When Denver selected the 6’2”, 313lb Williams with the 28th pick in the 2013 draft, people in the draft community were split on him. Some saw a dominant player that would be a force to be reckoned with for years to come, and some saw a guy whose production didn’t quite match the physical attributes and wondered whether the two would ever come close to meeting.
Now close to four years into his career, Williams seems to have settled somewhere in between the two extreme opinions.
He has proven to be rather durable- a trait that should not be overlooked, as no player has ever made an impact on a game from the cold tub. Williams has appeared in 55 of a possible 59 games to date, notching 61 solo tackles, 25 assists, 6 tackles-for-loss, 6 sacks and 15 hurries over his brief career.
If you’ve read my weekly articles, you are familiar with what I’ve been calling “impact plays” made by the group of newly minted NT/DT’s. These are simply the sum of TFL’s, sacks and hurries- plays made behind the line of scrimmage that I feel are representative of disruptive defensive play by an interior D-lineman.
Williams has accumulated 27 such plays in his 55 games played. So, one every other game.
Is that good? Bad? How does it compare to other NT’s? Let’s find out.
The first thing that stands out is that there just aren’t a lot of closely comparable players available here for the purposes of projecting a contract. There are only so many starting nose tackles, and of those, many are either still on their rookie deals (Poe, Shelton, Goldman) or are nearing the end of their illustrious careers (Wilfork, Mebane).
No matter- we can use the group above to ballpark a deal for Big Syl Williams.
The best way to compare the stats and impact is by extrapolating the numbers using games played as the starter. Comparing Williams with Guion works great because Guion has played twice as many games as the Bronco nose tackle. So, if you double Williams’ numbers, you get a snapshot of how those two guys have impacted games head-to-head.
Williams is more likely to get a solo tackle, Guion an assist, the TFL’s are even and then Williams pulls away in the money categories- sacks and hurries.
When comparing Williams to Peters, the math checks out again. Williams has played 2/3 the number of Peters’ plays. So, extrapolating those numbers works by adding 50% to Williams’ numbers in each category and then making the head-to-head comparison.
The result is Peters being more adept at making the “ho-hum” tackle, be it solo or assisted. However, Williams is better in the TFL category, as well as quarterback hurries. Peters enjoys a slight advantage in sacks and frankly may have sold himself short with a $3M APY deal. His sack total is relatively high for the nose tackle position and typically sacks of quarterbacks = sacks of cash.
Proving this kind of process does not occur in a vacuum, take a look at Al Woods. How on earth did he pull a deal commiserate with the other nose tackles on this list? It’s pretty unbelievable that he makes more money than Corey Peters, and the fact he has done next to nothing to help Tennessee’s cause in 2016 should not be a surprise to anyone considering his lack of impressive plays. For a team on the come, the Titans need to learn to not throw money away like this in the future.
Taking all of these numbers into consideration and then factoring in the slight age advantage Williams possesses, his durability and the increased per-team salary cap ceiling for year 2017 over both 2015 and 2016, I would project Sylvester Williams to field an offer- either from Denver or elsewhere- that easily outpaces all of these comps, as he supplements the most impressive impact play-per-game ratio with a solid number of tackles.
I see a floor of $4.0M APY and a ceiling of $5.5M per for the former Tar Heel, with no less than $4.25M guaranteed.
Projection: 3 years, $15M total with $5M guaranteed ($3M signing bonus, $2M ‘17 salary).
The salary cap structure could look something like this:
The Broncos already pay Derek Wolfe and of course Von Miller a lot of money to play at a high level along the defensive line. Though they are thin at NT, I’m not sure Denver will be the team to sign Sylvester Williams to his next contract simply because of salary cap constraints that discourage spending too much money on one position group.
Williams should, however, find a niche market of teams playing the 3-4 that are in need of solid if not spectacular production at arguably the most important position in the 34 defense. He could also find a home as a space-eater DT in a 43 scheme.
Not every player is a human highlight reel like Von Miller. Some- most, in fact- are role players. Sylvester WIlliams fills the important role of gap controller along the rough-and-tumble line of scrimmage, and he’s going to end up making a very nice living out of it for himself and his family.
Next up: Brandon Williams, DT, Baltimore Ravens