Cornerback Tramon Williams has been productive and durable. He has played in 140 of the past 141 games while with Green Bay. His 22 interceptions since 2010 is second in the NFL, behind Richard Sherman. According to the Cleveland Browns, Joe Haden and Williams are ranked first and second in pass breakups since 2010 with 87 and 82, respectively.
Those are the positives with the Browns' biggest free-agent signing. The risk is agreeing to a reported $21 million deal for a cornerback who just turned 32 and completed his ninth NFL season.
How the deal is structured will be telling, but as it stands Williams is in the $7 million-average-per-year range. That places him in a tie for 18th among cornerbacks, according to data from @SalaryCap101. Giants cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie also averages $7 million per year. That's more than Buster Skrine, who just left the Browns on a four-year, $25 million deal worth $13 million guaranteed and about $6.25 million per year.
An NFL contract truism: It's all about the guaranteed money, the rest belongs in the trash bin. Under most contracts, teams can cut players after a year with minimal blowback. I'm guessing Williams' deal doesn't match Skrine's $13 million in guarantees. The smart play would be giving Williams a healthy guarantee, but creating performance incentives to help reach that $21 million if he plays well until 2017.
Among cornerbacks signed this free-agency period, Williams would be fifth in APY, behind Byron Maxwell ($10.5 million), Brandon Flowers ($9.1 million), Kareem Jackson ($8.5 million) and Chris Culliver ($8 million). APY isn't a tell-all, but is a reference point for how a team values a player.
Signing Williams and defensive tackle Randy Starks are relatively low-risk moves for the Browns. The Browns get two starting-caliber players at an estimated $11 million a year combined.
But Williams capitalized on a booming cornerback market and forced the Browns' hand when they needed veteran help at the position. Green Bay stayed disciplined, according to ESPN Packers reporter Rob Demovsky, likely offering Williams a two-year deal worth about $4 or $5 million a year. This was a nod to Williams' durability/productivity, but not an overpay after he was beaten too often, Demovsky wrote.
The Browns had to offer an attractive deal to pry Williams out of Green Bay. They must be very high on Williams -- they essentially passed on two much younger cornerbacks at the same price or lower. Skrine is 26 and Perrish Cox, age 28, just signed a three-year, $15 million deal.
Williams is still a quality cornerback. But on the surface, $7 million a year seems a bit high based on all the factors. Alterraun Verner, DeAngelo Hall, Sean Smith and Brandon Browner are all accomplished cornerbacks who make less than Williams.
As long as the Browns protected themselves in the deal's structure, this can be a happy marriage.