ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan said Monday that safety Aaron Williams, who has been practicing since Dec. 10 while remaining on injured reserve/designated to return, will not play again this season.
Williams can continue practicing with the team until Dec. 31, which will be 21 days after his return to practice and three days before the Bills' season finale against the New York Jets.
Williams suffered a neck injury in a Week 2 loss to the New England Patriots that required him to be transported from the field to the hospital in an ambulance. He returned to play in a Week 5 win over the Tennessee Titans, but then was placed on injured reserve/designated to return after experiencing numbness during that game.
The fifth-year safety said earlier this month that his next hit will determine whether he continues playing football. He also revealed that he underwent "a procedure" on his neck in November and that he had begun considering his post-football career options if his neck did not respond well enough.
With Williams' timetable for a return pushed into next summer, when he will have a chance to return to live hitting during training camp practices, the Bills' uncertainty at the safety position grows.
The questions start with Williams' contract. The Bills gave him a four-year extension in March 2014 that included a modest $3.9 million cap number in 2015. However, Williams' cap number will spike next season to $6.1 million, increase to $6.625 million in 2017 and level off to $6.825 million in 2018.
If Williams is healthy and on the field, he could potentially be worth that money. While he hasn't played at a Pro Bowl level since the Bills moved him from cornerback to safety in 2013, the former second-round pick has been the Bills' best player at a position where they've had a revolving door for several years.
In Williams' absence, that door has continued to swing this season. Converted cornerback Corey Graham has started 14 games at safety this season but has looked out of place at times, including on a 77-yard touchdown by DeSean Jackson last Sunday and on a 53-yard touchdown by Nelson Agholor in a Dec. 13 loss to Philadelphia. Graham has two years remaining on his contract, at cap numbers of $4.675 million (in 2016) and $4.275 million (in 2017).
Although Rambo generally has played well over the past month of the season, he struggled in Sunday's loss to the Redskins and his position is high on the list of spots where the Bills can upgrade this offseason.
The Bills will have more pressing needs in both free agency and the draft -- offensive tackle and linebacker are glaring holes unless Cordy Glenn and Nigel Bradham re-sign -- but safety isn't far behind.
With Aaron Williams not playing again this season and his future still up in the air, the Bills might need to proceed this offseason as if he is not be able to play next season, elevating safety on the Bills' list of offseason priorities as they end their 16th consecutive season out of the playoffs.