Detroit Lions running back Jamaal Williams made it no secret he wants to return to the Motor City for the 2023 season. In an interview during Super Bowl week, Williams expressed a desire to finish out his career in Detroit.
“I really just want to stay with Detroit, if I can,” Williams said. “Really just stay here and make my mark here.” He added, “I just really want us to come to a mutual agreement and just get it done and just get back to playing football.”
The veteran running back enjoyed a career year with the Lions in 2022. Williams tallied 1,066 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground, both career-highs. He recorded the first 1,000-yard season by a Lions’ running back since Reggie Bush in 2013. His 17 rushing touchdowns broke the Lions’ franchise record set by Barry Sanders in 1991. Williams is a fan favorite in Detroit. Fans fell in love with his personality and style of play.
It is no surprise that Williams and the Lions have a mutual interest in reuniting for the 2023 season, but Williams knows it is not guaranteed.
“I understand it’s a business and the team has to do what’s best for them and I have to do what’s best for me, too,” he said.
Jamaal Williams could re-sign with the Detroit Lions soon
Detroit Free Press Lions beat writer Dave Birkett reported that Williams’ agent met with the Lions during the NFL Scouting Combine.
Williams joined the Lions after leaving the Green Bay Packers in the 2021 offseason. He signed with Detroit on a modest two-year $6 million deal. He outperformed his $4.3 million cap hit in 2022 with his career-best performance.
Williams, 27, enters his seventh season in 2023. The shelf-life of NFL running backs in notoriously short. With this in mind, it is very unlikely the Lions hand Williams a long-term contract with lots of guaranteed money after the first or second year. Most likely, Williams will garner another two-year contract offer, with most of the guaranteed money coming in the first year.
Spotrac values Williams at $4.1 million per year. A potential contract could look something along the lines of $8.3 million over two years. If the Lions can re-sign Williams to a contract around that value, the team should jump at the opportunity. There are other teams interested in Williams’ services, and Detroit needs to avoid falling into a bidding war.
Other teams have expressed interest in signing Jamaal Williams
Birtkett’s report indicated that while Williams and the Lions are both interested in an extension, there are other parties interested. Birkett reported the Carolina Panthers and Buffalo Bills are among the teams that could extend offers to Williams in free agency.
The Bills have struggled to find consistency in their running game throughout Josh Allen’s career. The team has been searching for Devin Singletary’s replacement since drafting Zack Moss in 2020. Buffalo has not had a 1,000-yard rusher in a single season since LeSean McCoy in 2017. Singletary enters free agency this offseason, leaving James Cook and Nyheim Hines as the only running backs under contract with the team.
Pursuing Willaims makes sense for the Bills. The team has been searching for a power back to carry the ball for years.
The Panthers do not have much experience at running back under contract. The team traded away Christian McCaffrey midseason and D’Onta Foreman is hitting free agency this offseason. That leaves Carolina’s backfield in the hands of Chubba Hubbard, Spencer Brown and Raheem Blackshear.
With former Lions running backs coach Duce Staley joining the Panthers’ coaching staff for the 2023 season, it makes sense why Carolina would have an interest in Williams’ services.
While most indications point to Williams re-signing with Detroit, it is not guaranteed. All it takes is a team like Carolina or Buffalo to make an offer the Lions cannot or will not match for Williams to sign elsewhere. If that happens the Lions will need to find a replacement somewhere.
If Jamaal Williams leaves, the Lions have options
The Lions will need to find another running back to add to the backfield in the offseason if Williams finds a home elsewhere in 2023. D’Andre Swift, Jermar Jefferson and Greg Bell are the only running backs under contract with the team. Craig Reynolds could easily be brought back as he is an exclusive rights free agent. All Detroit need do is extend him an offer sheet, and he is back for another season on a league-minimum salary contract.
Assuming all four running backs return, that is not an awe-inspiring group. Swift has not lived up to the billing of a second-round pick. Reynold’s and Jefferson are fine, but they are not much more than third-string guys who can run the ball in a pinch but make most of their money in special teams. Other options need to be pursued.
Bijan Robinson has been mocked to the Lions in recent days. Robinson has the talent of an elite running back. However, with more pressing needs on the Lions’ roster, it does not make sense to draft Robinson with one of Detroit’s four picks in the top 60.
Jahmyr Gibbs and Zach Charbonnet are interesting prospects to watch if they slip into the third round. Otherwise, the Lions would likely look at draft prospects that fall to the later rounds or go undrafted entirely. Deuce Vaughn and Mohamed Ibrahim could be among those names.
In free agency, names like Raheem Mostert or James Robinson are worth keeping an eye on. Robinson is a former 1,000-yard rusher who is only 24. With an average annual value of $3.8 million according to Spotrac, he could fill in the role left behind if Williams leaves.
Of course, the best course of action is for the Lions to re-sign Williams. It is easier said than done, but for a team with playoff aspirations in 2023, the Lions cannot afford to regress in the running game.
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