Four-and-a-half years after then-Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone announced that Williams had left the team, Marrone and the Buffalo Bills traded for the talented wide receiver Friday.
The Bills will send a sixth-round draft choice to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in exchange for Williams.
It will be a homecoming for Williams, who is a Buffalo native and attended Riverside High School in the city. After a standout high school career, Williams had a rocky tenure at Syracuse.
Williams was suspended for the entire 2008 season at Syracuse after cheating on a test. In November 2009, Williams left the team after he and three other teammates were involved in a crash coming home from a late-night visit to a casino. One report later said that Marrone, in his first season as Syracuse's head coach, held a team vote and the majority of players wanted Williams to return, but that coaches weren't able to contact him.
The next spring, the Buccaneers drafted Williams in the fourth round and he burst onto the NFL scene. As a rookie, Williams started 16 games, catching 65 passes for 964 yards and 11 touchdowns. He matched his reception total the next season and added 63 catches in 2012 for a career-high 996 yards.
Acquiring Mike Williams cost the Bills only a sixth-round pick.
His steady performance over his first three seasons earned Williams a five-year contract extension last summer, but a hamstring injury limited Williams to six games last season.
The Buccaneers have traded away a player who started to become a headache for the team, while the Bills acquire a player with significant potential.
The move comes with little risk to the Bills. A sixth-round pick is a small price to pay for a player of Williams' talent. From a financial standpoint, the Bills won't break the bank this season to add Williams.
Williams' cap hit in 2014 will be $1.8 million, which includes a guaranteed $1.2 million base salary and a $600,000 workout bonus. In 2015, Williams is due a guaranteed $5.2 million base salary and a $1 million roster bonus. While the deal continues through 2018, there is no guaranteed money after the 2015 season.
Where does Williams fit in the Bills offense? That remains to be seen. It's possible the Bills could now decide to move on from Stevie Johnson, who has an $8.5 million cap hit this season. However, that remains a long shot. If they keep Johnson, it wouldn't be hard to envision Williams, Johnson, and Robert Woods -- a second-round pick last season -- forming the core of the Bills' receiver group.
Williams' acquisition puts T.J. Graham, a third-round pick in 2012, squarely on the roster bubble. Graham started six games last season but is seen as a one-dimensional player who must find ways to contribute beyond being a speed threat.
Trading for Williams also makes it less likely that the Bills will target one of the top wide receiver prospects -- Clemson's Sammy Watkins or Texas A&M's Mike Evans -- with the ninth overall pick in next month's NFL draft. They could instead turn their attention to one of the top offensive tackles available, although the draft is always a fluid process and much could change based on which players are still on the board.
Ultimately, this trade will be judged as much by Williams' off-field behavior as his on-field performance. Under Marrone and general manager Doug Whaley, the Bills have shown a willingness to acquire players with character concerns. Last season, they drafted two players who were arrested in college -- linebacker Kiko Alonso and safety Duke Williams -- and they signed fullback Evan Rodriguez, who had two DUI arrests, last season.
The Bills also hosted wide receiver Kenny Britt, who has been arrested multiple times, on a free-agent visit last month. Additionally, the NFL Network reported that the Bills had interest in DeSean Jackson, whose off-field behavior was in the spotlight following his release by the Philadelphia Eagles. Britt signed with St. Louis and Jackson signed with Washington.
Last spring, when the Bills signed undrafted free agent Da'Rick Rogers -- who was dismissed from Tennessee's football team after failed drug tests -- Marrone gave an explanation for the signing that could likely apply to Williams' case, as well.
"I've had experiences before, myself as a position coach, coordinator, where we've taken some kids that made mistakes when they were younger," Marrone said. "We do believe in giving people second chances, especially when they have shown for a long period of time that they have done a good job."