Late Wednesday, the Vikings added what is purported to be a run-stopping defensive tackle in former Buffalo Bill Pat Williams. The local papers jumped on board with this signing, tauting the signing as the addition of a run-stopper extraordinaire. Vikings' head coach Mike Tice even stated that Williams was one of the Vikings' primary off-season targets. Hmmm...
Without question, Williams is a large body. Without question, Williams matches the physical requirements for playing either nose guard or under tackle. But there is some question whether Williams' signing should be viewed with any significant delight in Minnesota.
First, there is the matter of need. In the same breath that Tice lauded Williams, he also suggested that Williams' addition might not be so necessary. "We really like how Spencer Johnson played next to Kevin Williams last year," the coach stated, "and we think we can get more out of [Johnson] this year."
For once, I agree not only with Tice's assessment, but also with what that assessment means. Johnson did play well last year, very well in most games in which he saw action. And there is every reason to believe that the young player will only improve this year as he becomes more comfortable with his role and as he gets more snaps (assuming that happens).
That, alone, would call into question the necessity of signing Williams. But there was more. Much more.
After suggesting that he liked the Vikings' added depth at defensive tackle as the result of the addition of Williams, Tice dropped a subtle bombshell (if that's possible). "We really like how Spencer came on last year and like the addition of Williams. You might see Williams giving Spencer a break now and then next season."
The Vikings just dropped $13 million on Williams. Some of that money comes in the form of a signing bonus--though it is not clear how much. Why spend this kind of money on a guy who is going to spell a younger player who has shown the ability to play? I'd like to offer a cap conspiracy theory but there isn't one. Nor, apparently, is there any other theory that explains away this odd use of resources.
Second, there is the question of value. The Buffalo Bills were forced to let Williams go because they could not afford his cap number. At least that's what they said in Buffalo.
But Williams is an old 32--300 plusers tend not to age well in the NFL. Then there is the question of Williams' actual play-making abilities. While local pundits appear pleased with Williams' run-stopping abilities--the only real value in a 330/340 pound under tackle--others are less enthusiastic. One national NFL writer noted that, while Williams still has the ability to be a difference-maker, he often takes himself out of plays by free-lancing too much. The same writer states that Williams' freelancing causes him to have difficulty against the run.
Just to be clear, then, the Vikings signed a Siragus-like defensive lineman to stop the run, but that lineman is just slim enough to be able to take some chances (i.e., take himself out of the play) so that he cannot do the one thing that his physical "talents" would otherwise permit him to do? Sounds good.
Finally, there is a question of priorities. Tice noted his confidence in Johnson. That confidence appears well-placed. Moreover, run stopping has not been an issue for the Vikings, at least not up the middle. So why the addition of another player at defensive tackle? Why prioritize the position in free agency?
Unfortunately, there is no good answer unless the Vikings are so convinced that they will shore up their linebacking and secondary problems that teams will be forced to run inside against them next year. And that's not happening. Which makes this signing a bit puzzling.
Up Next: Are the Vikings Exchanging a Difficult Player for a True Head Case?