Did they sign the right guy?
The Patriots courted strong safety Tank Williams in free agency, but could have gone another direction. With Rodney Harrison and James Sanders -- both considered strong safeties - playing at the same time in 2007, the decision to sign Williams was curious.
Considered a strong tackler and hard hitter, Williams' mobility has become a concern after multiple knee injuries. Speed is one of the concerns the patriots had on defense, but tackling is considered more important. Rodney Harrison isn't known for his speed, or his mobility, but has performed at a high level for years - despite multiple major knee injuries. Sanders is also better suited to hard hits and tackling than showing his speed or ball-hawking skills.
Tank WIlliams (AP Photo)
Tim Yotter of Viking Update has watched Williams, spoken to him, and knows the kind of player he is. Yotter provided this scouting report on Williams:
Tank Williams is one of the bigger hard-luck stories for the Vikings of the past few years. After starting every game for the Tennessee Titans as a rookie in 2002 and again in 2003, his third season was cut short after starting the opening nine games of 2004 when he suffered a knee injury in on Nov. 14 against the Chicago Bears.
He rehabbed hard and returned to start all 16 games for the Titans in 2005, despite not being fully recovered and was looking forward to a full off-season of workouts in 2006 when the Vikings signed him to a one-year deal. He was expected to be the starter, but when the Vikings signed Dwight Smith right before training camp, the competition was on. Instead, Williams fractured his left knee in training camp without any contact. He returned last year and played in 13 games, starting two, but was also limited with more minor injuries.
In short, Williams was bitten hard and numerous times by the injury bug, but he remains a player that can start in this league when healthy. He is also a very mature locker room presence, a soft-spoken guy that would fit in with most locker rooms. He just never had much of a chance to prove it in Minnesota with two injury-riddled seasons.
|Chris Crocker (Getty)|
The Patriots had an opportunity to find other safeties than Williams. If starting quality was what New England wanted, Chris Crocker is a free agent who could have joined the Patriots to compliment the players on the roster.
Adam Caplan of SIRIUS NFL Radio, and senior NFL Reports for Scout.com shared his thoughts on Crocker vs Williams. "Crocker is a better player and could start," wrote Caplan in an email. Caplan did note that Williams' size could be what attracted the Patriots to him. "Williams is a big safety who has suffered two major knee injuries."
Speaking to other NFL insiders, the assessment on Crocker vs Williams was similar. Crocker appears to be better suited to play free safety in the Patriots scheme and is ready to go. The problem with Crocker is that he's in higher demand. He visited with the Texans - who extended an offer to him - and met with the Steelers yesterday. He also has meetings set with the Texans and Broncos. Ironically, the teams meeting with Crocker are similar to the ones meeting with Patriots free agent safety Eugene Wilson, whom the Patriots declined to pursue.
Other free agents the Patriots could have considered (and probably did) are Carolina's Deke Cooper, Cincinnati's Madieu Williams (who replaced Williams in Minnesota), Miami's Yeremiah Bell (re-signed), Jacksonville's Sammy Knight (Signed with Giants) and New York Jets Erik Coleman (Signed with Atlanta).
As was the case in years past, the Patriots opted for a more frugal approach. A league source confirmed to Patriots Insider that Williams agreed to a one-year deal. These are the type of "prove it" contracts New England has favored of late. When it works out, the Patriots look to re-sign the player. If it doesn't, then there isn't a big cap hit of dead money to deal with down the road.
Williams should be a solid role player for the Patriots. A humble veteran who is looking to get his career back on track, Williams could become another one of those "perfect veteran signings" the team has become known for.
While the Patriots could add another safety to fill in for Mel Mitchell who may not return, it is more likely the team will find a younger body in the Draft to begin the youth movement the team so desperately needs.