2017 Free Agency: Terrance Williams

Terrance Williams is set to hit free agency once the 2017 league year begins. Will teams pay him as a #1 receiver or has he already defined himself as a secondary option?

The answer depends on what data set you choose to favor. Williams has played 10 games in his career without Dez Bryant in the lineup. In those 10 games, his statistics are noticeably better than the 54 games with Bryant:

With Bryant542.64.240.31
Without Bryant103.86.766.30
Difference 1.22.526n/a
% Difference 46%60%65%n/a

When Williams isn’t contending with Bryant for attention, his statistics are 46-65% better with the exception of touchdowns. If those 10 game rates were pro-rated over a 16-game season, he would end up with 61 catches on 107 targets for 1051 yards and 5 touchdowns – very similar to how Kenny Britt and DeSean Jackson performed this year. How the new contracts for those two compare to Williams will show us if at least one team thinks Williams would perform better outside of Bryant’s shadow.

Conversely, a team that wants to pay Williams as a #2 receiver will most likely point to the following:

  • In 64 career games, Williams has just two 100-yard games. Tyrell Williams, Adam Thielen, Jamison Crowder, and Rishard Matthews each had three such games in 2016 alone.
  • In 64 career games, Williams has more than 1 TD just twice.

A player that plays in every game over the course of four seasons without having more breakout games will likely be seen as having very limited upside. I’m inclined to side with the teams that will view Williams as a very reliable #2 receiver. The team that signs Williams should expect him to be available for all 16 games (never missed a game in his career), and end up somewhere in the range of 50 catches on 90 targets for 800 yards and 5 touchdowns.

In 2016, several receivers signed contracts that indicated #2 or #3 receiver status on their team. The two whose statistics most closely resemble Williams’ career are Jermaine Kearse and Mohamed Sanu. I excluded the rookie seasons for Sanu and Kearse as they did not see significant playing time.

PlayerAPYGamesCatch/GTargets/GCatch %Yards/GTD/G

Williams is very similar in catches, targets, and catch percentage, and easily exceeds the other two on yards and touchdowns. For that reason, I wouldn’t expect Williams to sign for less than Sanu’s $6.5M APY. Assuming that the market agrees that Williams is worth somewhere in the range of $6.5M to $8.0M APY, the next question to answer is if that team is Dallas.

Dallas is currently projected to be over the 2017 cap by around $11M. Dallas’ lack of cap space combined with what the team may see as higher priority free agents (Church, Crawford, Wilcox?) as well as more pressing needs on defense such as pass rusher lead me to believe that Williams will be going elsewhere for his next contract. Assuming no retirements, Dallas will have Bryant, Witten, Elliott, and Beasley next year. I think that it is much more likely that the team will add a secondary option through the draft than compete with other teams for Williams’ services.

When Williams does sign for another team, I expect it to be for 5 years. In the past two years alone, many players around Williams’ expected APY have signed for 4 or 5 years: Marvin Jones, Torrey Smith, Mohamed Sanu, Michael Crabtree, and Travis Benjamin. The players that have signed for 3 years were either  hoping to establish more value before signing their next contract or weren’t able to secure a longer deal due to their age. Williams will be 28 at the start of next season. If he signs a 3-year deal, he would be 32 the first season following that deal. 32 year old receivers without a history of excellence don’t sign for huge paydays.

I expect Williams to sign a 5 year deal with slightly higher totals than Mohamed Sanu’s contract last year: 5 years, $37M ($7.4M APY), $7.5M signing bonus, $16M guaranteed, $22.5M 3 year cash.

Signing BonusYear 1 SalaryYear 2 SalaryYear 3 SalaryYear 4 SalaryYear 5 SalaryTotal GuaranteeAPY

I’m intentionally forecasting Williams’ deal below $8.0M APY because that is where the contracts for Marvin Jones, DeSean Jackson, and Torrey Smith are. At the time of their signing, all three had shown more potential and production than Williams has so far. Additionally, both Jackson and Jones are still more valuable than Williams.