Madieu Williams arrived in Minnesota in February 2008, having signed a six-year, $33 million free-agent contract that included around $13 million in guarantees. That made him among the highest-paid safeties in the NFL.
Williams wasn't known for his physical play, but what the Vikings valued was the ability he had shown in coverage during his first four NFL seasons with Cincinnati.
Vikings officials felt their belief in Williams was rewarded as they watched his performance early in training camp of 2008. Among those who had to be the most satisfied was defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, who had served in the same role with the Bengals during Williams' rookie season in 2004.
But that optimism came to a sudden halt when Williams suffered a severe neck injury in camp that could have ended his career and cost him the first seven games of the season. Williams returned to start the final 10 games at free safety, started all 18 games in 2009 and then played in 14 last season, missing the final two because of a concussion.
There were some who wondered if Williams' start against the Bears on Dec. 20 would be his last in Minnesota.
It would be more than fair to say that Williams hasn’t lived up to the contract he received. Far too often, he seemed to take bad angles on tackles last season and then there was the Tom Brady pass that somehow seemed to go right through him and into the hands of Brandon Tate in New England's 28-18 victory in late October.
But if the Vikings are preparing to jettison Williams when the NFL lockout ends, coach Leslie Frazier isn't tipping his hand. Remember, the Vikings also could have made the move before the lockout began.
"[He] provides great leadership for us in the secondary," Frazier said this week at the NFL coaches breakfast in New Orleans. "We’d like for him to get his hands on a few more balls [he had one interception in 2010 and has three in three years with the Vikings], but his leadership is probably the thing that really sticks out -- just being able to control our secondary, get guys lined up correctly, understanding the system. That’s probably the biggest asset to what we do, and until we have another guy who we think can supplant him in that role, that’s the way it’ll probably be."
Frazier did mention that Tyrell Johnson could compete with Williams for the free safety job when football resumes, but Johnson has had his own issues and lost the strong safety battle in training camp last year to Husian Abdullah. Johnson ended up being active for only seven games. (We'll have more on Johnson's situation on a later blog.)
So what about Williams' issues with taking poor angles?
"Sure, if you talked to Madieu, he would say ‘there are some things I can improve on,'" Frazier said. "He’d like to get more hands on [the football], and he’d like to get more turnovers, like to be a little better tackler in certain situations. Those are all things that I’m sure he’d say he wants to improve on, and he will.
"He still has a chance to. But I still think that neck injury from a few years ago has kind of stuck with him a little bit. But I’ve seen him improve in some areas where he was good at in the past -- even this past season in certain instances. So, I think he’s getting better at some things, but this offseason will be critical to his future success."
It will be interesting to see how things play out with Williams, who won the prestigious Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year in 2010 for his wide-ranging charitable work. Williams' contract with the Vikings was renegotiated in December 2009, but his base salary is still slated to jump from $2.974 million in 2010 to $5.4 million each of the next three seasons.
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