Free Agent Forecast: Madieu Williams

The Cardinals' most glaring need in free agency is free safety, where incumbent starter Terrence Holt allowed too many big plays last season. GM Rod Graves is looking for an athletic complement to Adrian Wilson, one who can make plays on the ball and come up to stop the run. He may have found his man in free safety Madieu Williams.

Cincinnati Bengals free safety Madieu Williams is the epitome of a playmaker. He averages 94 tackles and three interceptions per 16 games. He has also chipped in 26 pass breakups and four sacks during his four-year career.

Williams boasts elite cover skills. He has the instincts and range to patrol centerfield, and the speed to cover receivers out of the slot. The biggest obstacle in Williams' rise to stardom has been health; he missed 12 games in 2005 with a shoulder injury and three more in 2007 after hurting his quad.

Williams has always been a ball hawk when healthy. During his senior season at Maryland, he led his squad with three interceptions and finished third with 87 tackles. He was the leader on a defense that sent six other players to the NFL: Shawne Merriman, D'Qwell Jackson, Leon Joe, Randy Starks, Domonique Foxworth and Curome Cox.

Williams would start at free safety for the Cardinals, allowing Wilson to play closer to the line of scrimmage. That would be a boon for defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, who would be free to fully exploit Wilson's abilities on the blitz.

Signing Williams would also allow Antrel Rolle to remain at cornerback rather than sliding inside to safety. Rolle appeared to come on late in the season -- intercepting five passes over the final seven games and returning three of them for touchdowns -- and it would be a shame for him to disrupt that progress by changing positions.

Williams is seeking a contract similar to the five-year, $16-million pact that Marlon McCree signed with the Chargers in 2006. The Cardinals have approximately $30 million in salary cap space, so accommodating Williams should not be a problem.

The trick will be convincing Williams to leave the comfort of Cincinnati to move to the desert. Williams has indicated he would like to return to the Bengals, but it is unclear if the feeling is mutual. The Bengals have other significant free agents to worry about, including Justin Smith, Landon Johnson and Stacy Andrews.

If the Cardinals can convince Williams to fly the coup, it will mark a significant step forward for Arizona's defense. The New York Giants proved to the world how far an attacking defense can carry a team -- Williams could be the player the Cardinals need to make a similar transformation.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the network.

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