Holler: Williams gets his career extension

For most players, the decision when to quit playing football is one that is typically out of their hands. The Vikings gave up on future Ring of Honor member Kevin Williams two years ago, but Big Kev wasn't ready to quit. He played in his first Super Bowl as a member of the Seattle Seahawks last year and now appears ready for one last ride with the New Orleans Saints.

The NFL is an interesting business.

Organizations make decisions that aren’t about family, they’re about business. More times than not, owners and general managers decide when they think a player should hang it up. You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.

It’s happened to just about all of the greats – from Johnny Unitas to O.J. Simpson to Joe Montana to Emmitt Smith to Jerry Rice to Randy Moss to Brett Favre.

When the team says they’re done, it isn’t always accepted by players. Retirement comes quietly when nobody else calls. Until then, keeping their playing career alive can turn a player into a mercenary.

So it was for former Viking Kevin Williams. At the end of the 2013 season, Williams was asked what he thought his future would hold. It seemed obvious that the Vikings were done with him. They had renegotiated his contract to knock the final year off his deal to make 2013 his last season under contract with the Vikings.

After a decade-long career, the Vikings were ready to move on. Williams wasn’t as ready. He told reporters he felt as good as he had at the end of a season in years and felt he still had good football left in him. Just because he wasn’t in the Vikings plans didn’t mean he was ready to announce his retirement.

As it turned out, Williams was right that he still had some charge left in the batteries. Seattle came calling and Big Ticket signed a one-year deal with them. The expectation was that he would be a part-time situational player. But when run-stuffing DT Brandon Mebane went down with an injury, Williams got pushed front and center and not only became a full-time starter, he came within a botched call of earning his long-sought-after Super Bowl championship ring.

Like the Vikings, the Seahawks felt that, at his age, Williams was taking up a roster spot that could and should be filled by a younger player with upside, so he wasn’t re-signed. As had happened a year earlier, Williams’ career remained in limbo throughout the opening of free agency and past the draft. For a time, it looked as though he would be forced into retirement like so many other players who have retirement thrust upon them when the phone stops ringing.

The Seahawks were the team that prolonged Williams’ career last year. On Friday, it happened again as Williams signed with the strangest of bedfellows, the New Orleans Saints.

It’s been more than five years since the Saints broke the hearts of the Vikings and their fans in the NFC Championship Game, which became the subject of controversy when the Bountygate scandal broke. There were hard feelings toward New Orleans that put them on Vikings fans’ enemies list, sidling up there with the Packers and Bears in terms of fan disdain for another franchise.

But, for some, hearing the news showed that it’s still too soon to talk about the Saints and not viewing them as the enemy. Williams has signed on with the Axis of Evil, even five years-plus after the fact.

For Williams, who is certainly going to end up in the Vikings Ring of Honor someday, it is a chance to leave the game on his own terms instead of having his retirement decided by a suit in the front office. You can’t blame him for wanting to prolong his career because, once a player hangs us his cleats, there is no turning back. Players very rarely come out of retirement a year after they last played, especially in their 30s. It tends to be permanent and, if it means pulling up stakes and moving to a new city to keep the playing dream alive, they happily do it.

It may seem strange that Williams will be donning the fleur-de-lis in New Orleans, but, like so many other veterans who have enjoyed long playing careers, Big Kev isn’t ready to hang it up and call it a career. The Vikings thought he should. The Seahawks thought he should. Williams doesn’t agree.

Those of us who know Williams wish him nothing but the best because, as good a football player as he is, he is just as good a person – a gentle giant whose physical style belies his soft-spoken nature. He’s earned the right to end his career on his own terms and if that means playing for a third team in three years, so be it. The vast majority of players don’t have the talent or the ability to call their own shots on when it’s time to end his playing career. Williams is one of the exceptions to that rule and deserves to get the chance to extend his career for another season, even if it is to climb into bed with the McCoys after spending a decade living with the Hatfields.


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