One down, one to go. That might be an accurate way to describe what the signing of Brian Williams means to the Jaguars defense.
It's a defense that went into the offseason with two needs, one at linebacker and the other at cornerback. The pricey addition of Williams on Saturday clearly addresses the need for a starting right cornerback, leaving only the need at linebacker for a defense that has every reason to believe it is now one player away from becoming one of the NFL's elite units.
"I think we're getting closer to filling in the pieces to the puzzle. Brian is another piece to the puzzle. We anticipate improvement over last year's unit," coordinator Mike Smith said of his defense, which was sixth in the league overall last year.
There is no if about it. When you pay a guy a $10 million signing bonus, he's gotta be a long-term fix at his position. The Jaguars dug deep for a player who was not considered to be one of free agency's headliners. He is now.
That's the way it is when you're signing cornerbacks and pass-rushers. They are the two positions on defense that are most likely to be overpaid and over-drafted. They are, clearly, the two most premium positions on defense and it's no coincidence that the Jaguars kicked off the last two free agency periods by giving $10 million in bonus money to, first, defensive end Reggie Hayward and, now, to Williams.
So where do they get the linebacker they need? Probably in the draft. That's not to say the Jaguars won't sign a veteran linebacker in free agency, but it's likely he won't be a big-money guy, especially not in a year as rich with linebackers as this year's draft class is.
That guy is now the missing link. The Jaguars need one of those disruptive-type linebackers. They need one of those impact types that Smith and Jack Del Rio coached in Baltimore. If they find that guy in the draft, look out. This could become a very special defense.
"I think Brian has qualities we're looking for in a corner. He has excellent size, good speed and plays very physical," Smith said of the 5-11, 198-pound Williams.
He's a guy who has skills beyond the usual requirements of the right cornerback position, which is traditionally regarded as the "squat corner" because the right corner usually plays a lot of zone. Williams, however, is not a "squat corner." The Jaguars were attracted to him because they believe he has strong man-coverage skills, which would allow the Jaguars to get sexy with their defensive strategies.
"He can play man and zone. He's going to give us a lot more flexibility in our defensive scheme," Smith said.
What does that mean? That means the Jags are gonna do some blitzing. You can do that when you can play man-to-man.
"He's a physical player who has man-to-man skills. He creates a good matchup for the defense on the bigger, more physical receivers. We're going to be a big football team," Smith added.
Williams lost his starting job in free agency last year when the Vikings signed Fred Smoot for $23 million over the first four years of that contract. When Smoot became injured, Williams stepped in as his replacement and stayed in the starting lineup the rest of the year.
It wasn't as though the Vikings were down on Williams. They hit him with a first-round tender as a restricted free agent last year, which meant the Vikings had to pay Williams $1.4 million in salary, instead of minimum wage. That's how much the Vikings valued keeping Williams and the Vikings even considered using a "transition" tag on Williams in free agency this year.
Smoot's contract, however, committed the Vikings to him, which ensured that Williams would be playing elsewhere in 2006. Jacksonville is elsewhere, landing there this past weekend to Jaguars fans' surprise.
Who is this kid to whom the Jaguars just gave $10 million? Simply put, Williams is the long-term fix at right cornerback after two consecutive years of temporary solutions.