- Michael C. Wright, ESPN Staff Writer
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Money: D.J. Williams signed a one-year deal last March that paid a base salary of $900,000 with a maximum value of $1.75 million.
Stats: Produced 27 tackles, including two for lost yardage, one quarterback pressure, two sacks and forced a fumble in six games.
2013 role: Signed as the replacement at middle linebacker for future Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher, Williams projected to be a potential steal in free agency because of his superior speed and athleticism, and joined the team as the starter. But Williams missed nearly all of training camp and the preseason due to a strained calf, which caused him to get off to a slow start at the beginning of the regular season.
The good: The strained calf during the preseason slowed Williams initially, and he didn’t appear to be in ideal shape at the beginning of the season. But once Williams worked himself into the mix, the linebacker made plays reminiscent of his days with the Denver Broncos.
Prior to joining the Bears, Williams had produced 90 tackles or more in five of the previous six seasons. The belief early on was that the addition of Williams and veteran James Anderson to play alongside Lance Briggs would upgrade the linebacking corps.
“D.J. Williams came in and provided leadership in terms of his motor, his effort and his physical[ity],” Bears general manager Phil Emery said. “Cannot understate when players make plays and they make impact tackles, impact plays on any side or area of the game, they become leaders.”
Williams also played a key role in the development of rookie second-round pick Jonathan Bostic, who would end up starting nine games.
The bad: The calf injury at the start of camp set back Williams for the early part of the season. Then with four minutes left in the third quarter of a 27-21 over the New York Giants on Oct. 10, Williams tore a pectoral muscle that would put him out for the rest of the season. That situation represented the third season-ending injury for a Chicago defensive starter, and forced the club to play Bostic in the middle for the duration.
Prior to the injury, Bears coach Marc Trestman said, “I saw D.J. Williams blowing up piles and running with speed to the ball.” But Williams missed five tackles over the first six games.
2014 outlook: Williams’ future in Chicago appears to be shaky at this point, with Emery saying the club wants to infuse youth on the defense through free agency and the draft. Williams will be 32 at the start of the 2014 season, but still possesses the physical attributes to be a dynamic playmaker.
So at this point, the Bears haven’t ruled out bringing back Williams. Perhaps it bodes well for the veteran that Emery that at some point it might be best to take advantage of Bostic’s run-and-hit skillset by moving him to an outside linebacker spot. That would leave open a spot in the middle for Williams.
“I like the team chemistry. I like the coaching staff. I like the energy of the city,” Williams said. “Hopefully if things work out right, I’ll be back here. I love our defense. It’s simple, but we play fast and just downhill.”
When the rest of the team packed up to leave for the offseason, Williams stayed behind to continue rehabilitation at Halas Hall. Williams needs to gain medical clearance to play before the team can seriously ponder bringing him back for 2014. The linebacker believes he’s still capable of producing at a starter’s level.
“I know I still have a good amount of years left in me,” he said. “I still have talent. If I don’t end up here, I’ll end up somewhere else, though I would love to end up here.”