The New Orleans Saints have an incredibly important decision to make on a supremely talented player this offseason. It is one that they will most certainly regret if the two sides end up going separate ways.
Saints safety Marcus Williams is scheduled to hit the open market in just a few weeks, a place in which he will gauge a ton of interest from numerous teams if the Saints allow him to be courted by other teams. Williams plays the 2021 season on a franchise tag after the two sides were unable to reach a long-term contract. The same option remains in play for the 2022 season.
Williams has played at an extremely high level since entering the league, quickly becoming one of the top free safeties in the game. Regarding his elite play, Williams has played a pivotal role in the major reconstruction of the Saints defense. His contributions in the back end have helped aid the turnaround in what was once the most historically atrocious unit in the NFL.
Over the past five seasons, Pro Football Focus has recognized Williams a countless number of times, as they have him posting some of the highest grades seen at the safety position on a yearly basis.
Everyone may focus on the final play, but Marcus Williams was one of the top safeties in the NFL over course of the 2017 season pic.twitter.com/QXsGDikp7l— PFF (@PFF) March 25, 2018
Highest-graded safeties since 2019:— PFF (@PFF) January 27, 2021
1. Justin Simmons - 90.5
2. Marcus Williams - 89.9
3. Adrian Amos - 89.0
4. Kareem Jackson - 87.3 pic.twitter.com/5CvuL5wRuP
Marcus Williams: 78.6 PFF Grade in 2020— PFF (@PFF) March 9, 2021
6th among safeties⚜️ pic.twitter.com/66exrQRqGx
2021 HIGHEST PFF GRADED SAFETIES:— Mike Kennedy (@MikeKennedyNFL) January 14, 2022
1) Kevin Byard, 90.5
2) Antoine Winfield Jr., 85.6
3) Jevon Holland, 84.6
4) Amani Hooker, 83.3
5) Micah Hyde, 82.0
6) Adrian Phillips, 80.5
7) Marcus Williams, 80.1
8) Derwin James, 78.5
9) Jordan Poyer, 78.1
10) Harrison Smith, 77.9 pic.twitter.com/lQR680VOmq
What really sets Williams apart from his contemporaries are his disciplined eyes, unique range, and excellent tracking capabilities when the football is in the air. His 15 interceptions over the course of his career aren’t the only proof of this claim - he also has a knack for knocking the ball out of receivers’ hands and deflecting passes when he can’t complete a turnover.
I decided to do a deep dive into some film to explain why it is imperative that the Saints don’t allow Williams to touch free agency this offseason.
This first clip is the Week 11 game in which the Eagles manhandled the Saints this past season. While the team as a whole played very poorly, Williams however, was a clear bright spot on the team for that week. And he REALLY shined...
On this play, Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts is able to dance around the pocket, scramble to his right and find a wide-open Miles Sanders up the sideline. On a play that would’ve been a huge gain and quite possibly a touchdown, Williams is able to find the open Sanders on the opposite side of the field by reading the quarterback's eyes and flow toward the ball. He then manages to get all the way across to make a spectacular play on the ball.
This play demonstrates Williams not losing sight of the quarterback’s eyes even when the play has been extended, and his ability to read and react quickly when the ball is thrown.
On the Eagles very next drive, he made a similar play.
Here, the Saints are in a Tampa 2 look (variation of Cover 2) with Devonta Smith running a mandatory outside release go route into the dead zone (area of void). Hurts attempts to fit this rail shot on a back shoulder throw to prevent an interception and/or a big hit on Smith. Although good placement, Williams is able to come off his landmark and force Smith out-of-bounds before he is able to get two feet in, resulting in an incomplete pass.
Even when the quarterback makes it difficult, Williams still finds a way.
And don’t worry, I did not forget about the fun stuff.
Williams has come down with plenty of wowing interceptions over the years, but most of the time he prevents teams from throwing the ball over the top of the defense. This is the main reason why the 5th-year safety doesn’t always post gaudy interception numbers year in and year out. Not many quarterbacks are willing to take that chance.
In spite of that, when he does have a chance to pluck the ball out of the sky, it’s almost always jaw-dropping experience.
Here’s an example of a Cover 1 look (variation of man coverage) where Williams has the ability to sit back, play free, and read the quarterback. If you look closely, you can see quarterback Deshaun Watson attempt to look off Williams with his eyes. Watson is doing this to get his speed guy, Will Fuller, one on one with no safety help.
However, Watson quickly found out that Williams wasn’t the player to manipulate.
Nevertheless, Watson takes his shot deep and Williams lunges in front of Fuller for the big-time interception.
This time, the defense is in the same exact coverage as the play above, the only difference is that Cleveland brought pressure this time around. Williams’s responsibility stays the same as the single high safety in this look, and he does a great job of playing in space and makes a perfectly timed jump on the ball for the turnover.
Marcus Williams has also done it against some of the best to ever play the game as well. Williams has a total of three interceptions in his career versus quarterbacks Tom Brady (2) and Aaron Rodgers (1) respectively.
Marcus Williams picks off Tom Brady for the 2nd time this season! #Saints | #BudLightCelly pic.twitter.com/oOvGZ44Fuj— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) November 9, 2020
Saints safety Marcus Williams makes plays. Watch as he intercepts Aaron Rodgers. pic.twitter.com/9Qb2EAp5wK— WayneBreezie (@WayneBreezie) February 23, 2022
Even future Hall-of-Famers struggle throwing his way.
There isn’t any doubt that the Saints want to bring Williams back on a long-term deal. The question is: how competitive is the team willing to be when it comes to money? The ideal scenario is that the Saints are able to lock him down early on a long-term contract, not only to keep him from entertaining other offers, but allowing the team to be flexible with their spending this offseason. If they are not able to come to an agreement, the team will be forced to franchise tag Williams for the second year in a row, this time at the price of $13.5 million, all in which is fully guaranteed. In doing this, it could severely limit the options that New Orleans has during free agency and could very well be the difference in the effort to keep a guy like Terron Armstead.
Marcus Williams deserves every single dollar that he’ll receive this offseason, and you can expect the Saints to be the ones that he’ll receive it from. After seeing Trey Hendrickson blow up this past season in Cincinnati, it would be shocking to see them let another young superstar walk out of the building in the prime of his career. Hopefully, both sides can agree to terms on a deal rather soon but if not, the odds of Marcus Williams playing for another team in 2022 are still incredibly low.