A Closer Look at Mike Williams’ Departure

Back in 2010, Pete Carroll’s first year as head coach of the Seahawks, there was a whole lot of uncertainty and anxiety to be had northwest.  Most of the players on the roster were veterans past their prime or younger guys who never managed to have a prime of any sort.  In the win-loss column, the team had a pathetic nine total wins to show for the previous two seaons.  The new head coach Pete Carroll (the team’s third in as many years) was generating some positive buzz, but at the same time it was hard not to worry about how well the relentlessly upbeat, rah-rah approach that worked so well for him in college would translate to the NFL.  Even if he could get a bunch of grown men to go along with his feel-good shtick, would the Hawks be able to scrape together enough talented players for that buy-in to make a difference on the field?

As it turns out, we were all in for a truly exciting season.  Despite a rash of injuries exacerbated by paper-thin depth at several key positions, the Seahawks improved to 7-9, then went on to earn one of the biggest upset wins in playoff history, knocking off the defending Super Bowl champion Saints in a 41-36 shootout.

And not a damn bit of that would’ve happened without Mike Williams.  On an offense with an injury-plagued QB, a balky o-line, and a host of question marks in both the receiving and running back groups, Williams emerged as one of the few people upon which the team could consistently rely.  Including the playoffs, Williams led the team with 74 catches for 834 yards, more than any other receiver on the team by a significant margin (Ben Obomanu was second on the team with 39 catches for 605 yards).  Better yet, 45 of those catches (60.8%) resulted in first downs.  So why are we talking about Williams being released by the team just a year and a half later? 

For starters, Williams had a down year in 2011, catching only 18 passes for 236 yards.  Granted, 13 of those catches (72.2%) resulted in first downs, but considering the tiny sample size that isn’t much comfort.  Contrary to popular opinion, Tarvaris Jackson was not the reason for those low, low stats.  Even at his best, Williams is not a speed demon, nor is he a Larry Fitzgerald type who can skyrocket a hundred feet straight up to high-point the ball over everyone’s heads.  What Williams does best is take advantage of what little separation he can get (usually just a step or two) by using his big frame and physicality to shield defenders out of the play and secure the catch. 

When you look at game tape from last season, the first thing that jumps out at you about #17 is the complete lack of separation he gets from defenders on nearly every play.  No matter how big you are, it’s hard to shield the ball when the guy covering you is so close he might as well be riding piggyback.  That makes for a thoroughly unappealing target for a QB, and that goes doubly so when the QB in question isn’t an anticipation thrower (Jackson tends to throw only after he’s seen his guy get open).

Injuries had a lot to do with Big Mike’s slowdown in 2011, but they also seem to have had a lot to do with his release.  Williams fought various ailments last year (ankle, toe, etc.), and despite having been on IR since mid-November he still isn’t healed up enough to do any offseason training or conditioning.  It’s hard to be much of an asset to your team when you can’t get on the field, much less build up enough speed to get open.

Even so, considering Williams’ impact when he’s healthy, most teams would have been tempted to keep him on the roster and wait out the recovery process.  Besides, we know Carroll loves big, physical receivers, and wideouts don’t come much bigger than 6’5” and 229 lbs.  In 2010, that kind of size was hard to find in Seattle.  After Williams, the next two biggest wide receivers were Ben Obomanu (6’0”, 203 lbs), an average receiver with some decent special teams skills, and Ruvell Martin (6’4”, 217 lbs), a large but below-average receiver who has made a career of landing on rosters as an injury replacement.

If that were still the case, patiently waiting for Williams to mend would be a no-brainer, but thanks in large part to GM John Schneider that kind of size is no longer a rarity.  As of this writing there are nine receivers currently  on the roster who are listed as standing 6’ or taller and the same number who weigh in at 200+ lbs.  More importantly, several of those players inspire significantly more confidence than Ruvell Martin:

Name Height Weight
Kris Durham 6’6″ 216 lbs
Sidney Rice 6’4″ 202 lbs
Lavasier Tuinei 6’4″ 220 lbs
Ricardo Lockette 6’2″ 211 lbs
Phil Bates 6’1″ 220 lbs
Jermaine Kearse 6’1″ 209 lbs
Cameron Kenney 6’1″ 197 lbs
Charly Martin 6’1″ 212 lbs
Ben Obomanu 6’0″ 204 lbs
Golden Tate 5’10” 202 lbs

In short, Williams’ release was unfortunate, but inevitable.  Injuries significantly affected his play last season, he’s been slow to recover from those injuries (which didn’t work out so hot for Lofa Tatupu or Colin Cole before him), and there are plenty of big-bodied receivers on hand to compete for his spot on the roster.  And while releasing Williams in mid-July still might still seem like a premature move, it was also one that shows the team’s respect for everything he did for them: assuming he can finish healing up, getting released prior to the beginning of training camp gives him a better shot at getting a tryout with another team.

Thanks for 2010, BMW, and I wish you the best of luck in continuing your career elsewhere.  Except when you play against the Seahawks.