The release by the Chicago Bears on Thursday of legendary kick returner Devin Hester opens the door for ex-CFLer Chris Williams. (Above, QMI Agency photo)
At least on punt returns.
If you never watched CFL football in 2011 and 2012, you probably have no idea who Williams is. But his pedigree as a return man is impressive.
The Bears signed him off the New Orleans Saints’ practice squad in the last week of December.
Despite being tiny by any grown-man football standards — 5-foot-8, 175 pounds — Williams earned renown north of the border as one of the most electric players in his two-year CFL career.
That was after he failed to crack the 53-man rosters of both the Dolphins and Browns in 2009, as a rookie out of New Mexico State.
Williams, a burner who ran the 40 in 4.28 seconds at the 2009 NFL combine, joined the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ practice squad late in the 2010 season.
He burst out of the gate in ’11 as both a returner of punts, missed field goals and some kickoffs, and became a prolific slot receiver. Williams was named the league’s most outstanding rookie, then became a genuine star in 2012.
It took him only nine games — half a season — to break the CFL single-season record with six kick returns for touchdowns (five punts and a missed field goal). In that stretch he had punt-return touchdowns in three consecutive games, a CFL first.
By season’s end Williams added 11 receiving TDs, off 83 catches for 1,298 yards. The Ticats named him their most outstanding offensive player, and he was a CFL all-star.
Williams left the Ticats last year in a bitter, drawn-out contract squabble that went as far as Ontario Superior Court. On Oct. 2 the Ticats ended the standoff and released Williams. A day later the Saints signed him to their practice squad, where he remained until the Bears plucked him.
His head coach in Chicago is Marc Trestman who, of course is acutely aware of just how effective a return man Williams was in the CFL. In three games against Trestman’s Montreal Alouettes in 2012, for instance, Williams returned punts for 189 yards and a score.
Now 26, Williams probably is too small to last long as an NFL kickoff returner. He didn’t do it much in the CFL either.
Williams has two years worth $1.15 million remaining on his contract with the Bears.
He has enormous shoes to fill — Hester’s, whose 19 overall return touchdowns (13 punts, five kickoffs and one missed field goal) are tied with Deion Sanders for most in NFL history.
The Bears announced Thursday they won’t re-sign Hester.
He and hundreds of other unrestricted free agents can sign with new teams when the new league year begins, Tuesday at 4 p.m. EDT.
For the second year, UFAs and their agents are permitted to begin negotiating with other teams beginning Saturday.
D’Qwell a Colt
LB D’Qwell Jackson, released last week by the Browns, visited several teams but on Thursday opted to sign with the Colts, for a reported $22 million over four years, with $11 million guaranteed. Jackson had been one of the first Browns players to publicly vent when the team fired head coach Rob Chudzinski on Dec. 29. Chudzinski is now an assistant coach with the Colts under Chuck Pagano.
As expected, the AFC champion Denver Broncos cut 12-time Pro Bowl CB Champ Bailey. The move saves the Broncos $10 million against the cap. Bailey was injured for most of last season.
The Colts, meantime, saved $4 million against the cap by releasing starting C Samson Satele, and reportedly won’t re-sign LB Pat Angerer. The Chiefs released LB Robert James and TE Dominique Jones, the Vikings let go DT Letroy Guion and WR Greg Childs and the Texans released ILB Evan Frierson.
Bills variable tix: invariably more money
The Bills on Thursday not only announced undisclosed “modest” price increases for season-ticket members in most sections, they became the latest team to turn to a “variable” ticket pricing scheme for home games.
“Season tickets will list different prices for the home games based on the variable tiers,” the team announced.
That is, based on the most desirable draws.
Opponents home and away already have been announced for all teams; dates will be announced in April. In addition to AFC East rivals (Patriots, Jets, Dolphins), the Bills play host to the Chiefs, Chargers, Browns, Packers and Vikings.
Just a hunch, but expect the Patriots, Jets and Packers games to cost the most.
The Bears bolstered their thin defensive line, re-signing DT Jeremiah Ratliff for $4 million over two years, then signing DE Trevor Scott, the former Raider, Patriot and Buc … ILB Jasper Brinkley visited the Bills on Thursday, and was set to visit the Giants. He was released earlier this week by the Cardinals. Players released before the start of free agency are free to visit teams and sign at any time … The Packers and DL B.J. Raji were discussing a one-year, $4-million deal … The Bills re-signed CB Brandon Smith, and took the first step toward re-signing three of their “exclusive-rights” free agents (that is, players with one or two years of experience whose contracts are about to expire), by tendering one-year minimum-salary offers to each: WR Chris Hogan, OL Antoine McClain and FB Frank Summers. Each can negotiate a better deal with only the Bills, starting Tuesday.