It should not come as a surprise to Buffalo Bills fans that offensive guard Chris Williams is highlighted in our 2015 bubble watch series. With so many factors currently working against him, it would be a much bigger surprise if Williams were to make the Bills' roster this summer than if the opposite were to occur.
Head-scratcher of a contract
When the Bills signed Williams during the 2014 offseason, many media members and fans questioned the four-year contract he signed worth $13.5 million. The former lineman for Chicago and St. Louis had not lived up to the status of a first-round pick, and was rated as the No. 74 overall guard (out of 81 eligible candidates) by Pro Football Focus following the 2013 season. The Bills signed Williams early in the free agency process, and his contract included $5.5 million in guarantees.
It was a fairly hefty commitment for a player that had underperformed throughout his career, regardless of his experience, and one where the Bills can pick up some cap relief should they part ways with Williams. Exactly how much the team would save was debated earlier this week, until ESPN's Mike Rodak clarified that the Bills could save almost $4 million total over the next two seasons by moving on from Williams. That's money the Bills can use to lock up some of their younger stars.
In an effort to defend Williams, he has rarely been healthy throughout his NFL career. Williams has battled a multitude of injuries since entering the NFL in 2008, including concussions, hamstring issues, a herniated disc, and a dislocated and fractured wrist. He spent the 2014 season in Buffalo on injured reserve with a back injury. Thanks to this rash of injuries, Williams has only played in 72 games over eight NFL seasons. He started 16 games for Chicago in 2009 and St. Louis in 2013; those were his only two healthy seasons as a pro.
A bad first impression
When the Bills started workouts this offseason, new head coach Rex Ryan made a point to single out Williams as a player that had not contacted him about his absence from the OTA sessions. Although Williams is recovering from surgery, one can argue that it would have made sense for him to contact the new coaching staff, or attend the voluntary workouts as an observer. Other players missed sessions for a number of reasons, but the team communicated that they had been in contact with each player in these other instances. If Williams was hoping to make a good first impression on his new coaches, it seems he failed to do so.
The Bills made additions at the guard spot with the third-round selection of John Miller and the free-agent signing of Richie Incognito. Both players have been slotted into the starting guard spots in workouts, and have openly been praised by Ryan and the Bills' coaching staff. Should Williams be in the competition for a backup role, he finds himself going against Kraig Urbik and Cyril Richardson. While both may have their flaws, they do have some distinct advantages over Williams: Urbik offers the flexibility to play center should Eric Wood suffer an injury this season (and has already restructured his contract), while Richardson is a more affordable option with more upside.
With so many factors working against Williams, his roster spot is in danger for the upcoming season. It will be interesting to see if he can be healthy enough in training camp to defy his current expectations and make the 53-man roster.