Kevin Williams: ‘Just another employee?'
For more than a decade, Kevin Williams has been one of the faces of the Vikings defense. When he entered the league, he made an immediate impact and has been a fixture in the middle of the Vikings defensive front ever since. As he comes back for his 11th season, Williams is mindful that, like so many other veteran players in recent years, his days in the purple and gold have an expiration date that is getting nearer all the time. Over the last four seasons, the Vikings have parted ways with numerous veteran players who weren't ready to see their careers come to an end – an impressive list that included Matt Birk, Darren Sharper, Steve Hutchinson, Pat Williams, Antoine Winfield, E.J. Henderson, Bryant McKinnie and Madieu Williams. Had he not restructured his contract in the offseason – reducing his 2013 salary from $7.5 million to $5 million and eliminating the 2014 season from the deal – Williams could have been the latest Viking over the age of 30 to be shown the door by the franchise, which appears to be at the tail end of a massive youth movement that continues to drop the average age of the players. Williams is an endangered species in that system, but he is feeling as good now as he has in the month of May for years. He hasn't been happy about how everything has come down, but he is ready to get his 11th season started as soon as possible. "Actually, it's been a pretty good offseason for me," Williams said. "A couple of things didn't turn out the way I wanted contract-wise, but I've been having a good offseason as far as taking a little time off to heal up and then start working out." Williams was given more of a chance to rest after years of being an every-down defensive tackle. While he was still on the field for the vast majority of plays, 71 percent of them, he said the occasional breathers and D-line rotation helped him remain strong during the 2012 season and has him feeling better at this point of the year than he has in a long time. As if the Vikings' recent decision to part with players over 30 was weighing on his mind, the selection of defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd in the first round served to solidify the belief that this might be his final season. While the two are both viewed as under-tackles in the Vikings' defensive scheme, Williams believes he and Floyd have skills sets that are far from identical. "We play the same position, but I think we're two different styles of players from what I've seen so far," Williams said. "We can work together and make some things happen. I think we have a good chance of that." But, can they be on the field at the same time? Why not? Williams is content to be both teammate and mentor to Floyd, but, like other veterans before him, he realizes what drafting a young player at the same position means to his future with the franchise. While everyone freely admits that football is a young man's game, the Vikings have transformed from one of the league's most veteran-laden teams to one of the youngest in a three-year span. Williams believes it has been done by design and it has impacted both sides of the ball. Williams is far from deluding himself when it comes to his career with the Vikings. The light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter every year and its luminescence in 2013 is enough to have him squint and shield his eyes. He's told the younger players over the years to take the time to enjoy their teammates and to make sure they keep in touch because a player's career with a franchise is a finite time frame – even if it's a best friend like Pat Williams was when he and Kevin formed the impenetrable Williams Wall. "You feel like you're losing a relative," Williams said. "It's kind of like having grandparents that are still alive but all of their sisters and brothers are gone. That's kind of how you feel sometimes when you've been around for a long time. It's just life and that's how football goes. Who knows? I could be gone next year or in a couple of years or whatever the case may be. At some time or another it happens to everybody and you have to move on. My day is coming at some point and you have to learn to deal with it." John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.