- Josh Weinfuss, ESPN Staff Writer
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He got treatment, went over his playbook, took a nap in the training room and was hanging out with teammates when he said he was summoned upstairs to the office of Mike Disner, Arizona’s director of football operations and salary-cap guru.
A few minutes later Williams’ injury-riddled and tumultuous tenure with the Cardinals was over. He shook hands with coaches and management then went back downstairs to say goodbye to his teammates.
The first three years of his career, expected to be promising after he was drafted in 2011 in the second round out of Virginia Tech, did not go his way.
“This release was like seeing Bigfoot,” Williams said. “It was so unexpected. I didn’t see it coming at all. I had meetings with coaches after the season and I was told something totally different than what happened [Monday]. Quite frankly, I don’t like being told something that doesn’t happen. We’re all men and we should all be able to keep our word at the end of the day. It is what it is.
“All in all at the end of the day I do know this is a business, but some things since the beginning of my career could’ve been handled a lot differently.”
The Cardinals were not available for comment.
Just two games into his rookie preseason, Williams ruptured his patellar tendon and missed all of 2011. Then five games into 2012, Williams took a hit to the shoulder at St. Louis and missed the rest of that season. To him, the shoulder injury was a blessing in disguise. He felt the Cardinals rushed him back during the 2012 preseason. Williams said he returned to the field at around 80 percent, and was running “timid.”
“My second year I should not have been out there,” Williams said. “My trainers know it, people on the team know it.
“You can’t run scared, you’re bound to hurt something else. I’m lucky I hurt my shoulder instead of hurting my knee again.”
With almost 10 months between his shoulder injury at the start of training camp in 2013, Williams had enough time for his body to heal. In the meantime, Ken Whisenhunt was fired and Bruce Arians, also a Virginia Tech product, was hired. It seemed like Williams had an ally at the highest position.
But the spring of 2013 was, unbeknownst to him, the beginning of the end of his Cardinals’ career. Williams began experiencing pain and inflammation in the “fatty pad” under the patellar tendon in his right knee. He said he had two MRIs between that spring and training camp. Williams said after reading the MRIs the Cardinals told him there wasn’t anything wrong with his knee. The inflammation and pain persisted and Williams had flashbacks to 2012.
About a week into training camp, he pulled himself out of practice.
“I had to take myself out and stop practicing because it was something that I felt could’ve hurt me more if I was out there running timid again,” he said.
It didn’t take long for the Cardinals to dangle his roster spot, Williams said. Then the trade rumors began. Knowing he needed to return to the field soon, Williams said he resorted to injections. First was cortisone shots, he said, but they didn’t work. Then Williams said he tried plasma injections and eventually nova cane.
He returned to practice Aug. 22, a few days before Arizona hosted San Diego in the third preseason game. Earlier that week, Williams said he was injected with eight shots in one day. Against the Chargers, he carried twice for 10 yards.
Five days later, Arizona traveled to Denver for the final preseason game. With his knee still bothering him, Williams had nine carries for 25 yards and a touchdown.
“I managed to do what we were complaining about not being able to do and that was running the ball in the red zone,” Williams said. “In my mind, I’m thinking ‘Woo hoo, I come in and do what we’ve been complaining about.’”
To Williams, scoring the first rushing touchdown inside the red zone during the preseason meant he had done what the coaches were asking of the unit. And to him, that meant playing time.
“Come St. Louis [in Week 1] I’m inactive. So I just figured I’m inactive because I didn’t really play that much in preseason, so my time was coming,” Williams said.
Williams continued to be a regular on the inactive list. Then in Week 8, Williams thought there was hope. Starting running back Rashard Mendenhall was out because of a toe injury. Williams asked if he was dressing against Atlanta and he was told he wasn’t.
“That was probably the most confused I was all of last season,” Williams said.
Williams again thought he had a chance to play in Week 13 at Philadelphia when Andre Ellington was out with a knee injury.
“I asked if I was going to dress out and I was told, ‘I don’t know.’” Williams said. “And I knew that meant no. So, you know, I just took that as I’m fighting a business right now. It has nothing to do with my ability on the football field because I showed these guys every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday what I’m capable of doing. And what I was doing out there, not to toot my own horn, it was filthy. It was filthy and I was back. And everybody knew I was back.
“But it just didn’t work out, so I looked at it as next year’s my year.”
He never dressed or saw the field in 2013.
“I was more than unaware that my last year was going to end up being like that,” he said. “That’s really it. I was unaware that that was going to happen. I was told different things. It’s a business. You can be told millions of things and you can come in the building just like this situation, you can be told something that’s totally different.”
Publically last season, Arians said Williams' lack of special-teams experience was a reason the running back didn't get on the field. Arians was consistent that he wanted his players to contribute to as many phases as possible. And since Williams didn't make any of the special-teams units because he missed so much time in training camp, he didn't fit a need for the Cardinals.
"Just as well anybody else knows, there isn’t anybody on a football team that can’t play special teams," Williams said. "Who can’t play an effort phase? Because that’s all special teams is -- it’s effort. ... I was very frustrated but I kept to myself and kept my head down because I knew my time was coming. That’s all I could do.”
Williams said he began working out again in mid-March, the same month he fired former agent Malik Shareef and signed with Eugene Parker.
“I felt agentless when I had an agent,” Williams said. “I felt like there was nobody fighting for me, nobody trying to figure out what was going on. I felt like I had to do a lot of the dirty work myself.
“All of last year there wasn’t not one word of my agent coming back to me with information of why I wasn’t playing or what was going on. And that’s what I feel like you’re paying these dudes to do these things. So, you know, when it’s time for your agents to get an invoice, ‘Oh yeah, we need that invoice.’ You don’t just get an invoice for just chillin. That’s what it ultimately came down to.”
Having cleared waivers this week, Williams is free to be signed by another team. But he said he doesn’t think of his career so far as a bust.
“I feel like a bust is somebody who is given a fair opportunity to perform at their best,” he said. “I can’t get away from the fact that I had one of the worst knee injuries in my second preseason game of my rookie year. With that being said, it’s not many people out there that’s had this injury that runs like me and had been able to come back like I had. That's just kudos to how hard I worked and the determination that I got to be back.
“And when I’m given the opportunity to do it I know I can shut everybody up. I’m not worried about it.”