Last week, newly-hired defensive coordinator Joe Woods declared that Denver’s first priority on defense is to improve against the run.
Denver’s defense was often left on the field due to a struggling offense. During this time, the run defense really struggled down the stretch. Starting up front, Denver’s defensive line set the tone for a defense that allowed 130.3 yards/game. While the unit as a whole was plagued by a variety of injuries, one player in particular did not live up to the mile high expectations.
Selected by the Broncos in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft, Sylvester Williams could be wearing a new jersey when the 2017 season begins.
Drafted as a defensive tackle from North Carolina, Williams transitioned to the nose tackle position when Denver switched to a 3-4 defense under Wade Phillips. During the 2016 offseason, team general manager John Elway sent a strong message when he declined to pick up Williams’ fifth year option last offseason. As such, Williams will become an unrestricted free agent when the new league year starts in March.
Seeking more from its former first-rounder, Denver wanted to see much Williams’ lead a defensive line like Elway had envisioned; but Williams did little to bolster his case for a contract extension. In 2016, Williams managed just 20 solo tackles, tied for 73rd in the NFL at the defensive line position. In terms of pass rush, Williams had just one sack.
To Williams’ credit, 2016 was his best statistical year of his four-year career.
Should Denver look to free agency to find a replacement for Williams, there are a handful of starters set to hit the open market. With plenty of cap space to work with, Elway could opt to make a splash and take Dontari Poe from the rival Kansas City Chiefs. Behind serviceable starters like Jacksonville’s Tyson Alualu or New England’s Alan Branch, finding a direct upgrade over Williams may prove to be difficult.
Much like other positions in this draft, the DT position runs quite deep. With superstar Jonathan Allen projected to be long gone by the time Denver picks at 20, Denver could find a great value in the second or third round. Players like Carlos Watkins or Dalvin Tomlonson could provide great depth at DL, even if either doesn’t take over the NT position immediately.
Despite declining his option, there are plenty of reasons why keeping Williams may be beneficial to the Broncos.
In 2016, Williams’ salary was only $1.8 million. Williams would surely get a much larger dollar figure on the inflated free agent market, but, should he decide to stay with Denver, inking Williams’ to a team-friendly contract would be beneficial to both sides.
Even if he has not lived up to first-round expectations, Williams can still be a serviceable player on a rotating defensive line. At the age of 28, Williams is still young enough to improve.
Currently, Elway’s vision of Williams flushing QBs out of the pocket into the waiting arms of Von Miller hasn’t come to fruition. Many have written Williams off since Denver declined his option last offseason, but for a very close defense, the Broncos may decide to bring Williams back for one or two more seasons.