NFL Nation: Chris Williams

Bills Camp Report: Day 22

August, 10, 2014
Aug 10
5:45
PM ET
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Buffalo Bills training camp:
  • After a lighter workout Saturday, the Bills ramped it up for a full-pads practice Sunday that lasted well over two hours. The session featured 38 plays in the red zone (split between seven-on-seven, nine-on-nine, and 11-on-11) as well as a four-play live tackling drill at the goal line. That's a significant and much-needed red zone workload for a team that lacked an ability to punch it in the end zone on Friday night against the Carolina Panthers.
  • The results of the red zone work were mixed. EJ Manuel's first six reps came in a nine-on-nine drill where there was a half-offensive line on the right side. We scratched our head when Manuel was pressured from the right side, tucked the ball, and scrambled to the left. Doug Marrone has previously emphasized the point of the seven-on-seven drill (or its cousin, the nine-on-nine drill) is to throw the ball downfield, so scrambling to the side of the field with no offensive or defensive linemen -- by design -- is a questionable decision. In 11-on-11 red zone work, Manuel was sacked on two of his first four reps and didn't record a touchdown in any of his seven total reps in that period. In the final seven-on-seven series, Manuel's first two passes didn't score points but he finished on a strong note, hitting Lee Smith and Mike Williams for back-to-back touchdowns.
  • Manuel's best friend on the field continues to be Sammy Watkins, who made a great adjustment to catch a ball over cornerback Ross Cockrell in the first 11-on-11 period. In the next 11-on-11 series, Manuel threw a pass behind Watkins on a quick-out route, but Watkins snagged it out of the air with his left hand, back-handed. WGRZ's Jonah Javad posted a still frame of the impressive catch.
  • Safety Aaron Williams continued to line up with the second team Sunday, with Duke Williams and Da'Norris Searcy as the first-team pairing. Marrone said not to read into Aaron Williams' placement as any sort of indication of his performance.
  • With Chris Williams remaining out with a back injury, the Bills cycled through guards Sunday. Kraig Urbik, Doug Legursky, and Antoine McClain all saw time at left guard, while Urbik and Cyril Richardson were the top right guards. Marrone said he doesn't have long-term concerns about Williams' back injury. Other players who remained out Sunday: cornerback Leodis McKelvin, tight end Tony Moeaki, wide receiver Marquise Goodwin, cornerback Ron Brooks, safety Jonathan Meeks, and linebacker Ty Powell.
  • The Bills have an off day Monday before returning to the practice field Tuesday at 8 a.m. ET. They then travel to Latrobe, Pennsylvania, for joint practices with the Pittsburgh Steelers beginning Wednesday afternoon.
CHICAGO -- With Martellus Bennett serving an indefinite suspension, reserve tight end Zach Miller took full advantage of the extra repetitions, catching six passes for 68 yards and a pair of touchdowns as the Chicago Bears soared past the Philadelphia Eagles 34-28 on the strength of strong play from their quarterbacks.


Chicago's top three signal callers combined for 339 yards and four touchdowns.

Here are some other thoughts on the Chicago Bears' first preseason game of the year:
  • Considering Jay Cutler hasn't played an entire 16-game season since 2009, Chicago's competition for the No. 2 quarterback is vitally important. Both candidates made strong cases with Jimmy Clausen coming out with a slight edge. After Cutler performed sharply in two possessions (9 of 13 for 85 yards and a TD for a passer rating of 112.7), Jordan Palmer entered the game with 58 seconds left in the first quarter. Palmer started 3 for 3 for 39 yards before throwing an interception to Nate Allen on his fourth attempt. Palmer completed 8 of 11 for 104 yards and a touchdown to go with a passer rating of 94.9.

    Clausen, meanwhile, passed for 150 yards and two TDs for a passer rating of 134.6. Clausen's first scoring strike came on a 73-yard bomb to Chris Williams. He later hit Micheal Spurlock for a 22-yard touchdown, before finding Rosario for the conversion.

    Clausen may lead the No. 2 QB derby right now, but don't expect coach Marc Trestman to make a decision about the backup until later in the preseason.
  • Chicago's revamped defense put together a strong showing in the three possessions the starters played. Ryan Mundy and Sherrick McManis contributed interceptions as the defense held Philadelphia's first-team offense to 55 yards and 0-for-2 on third-down conversions. Remember, the Bears ranked last against the rush last season. But their starters limited Philadelphia's starting offense to 11 yards on four attempts. The front four generated plenty of pressure in the passing game, too. Mundy's interceptoin with 13:26 left in the first quarter came from a rushed Foles throw due to heavy pressure from Lamarr Houston.
  • Mundy and Danny McCray came out with the starters at safety, while Adrian Wilson and rookie Brock Vereen worked with the second team.
  • Rookie first-round pick Kyle Fuller received an extended look in his NFL debut. Although the starting defense played just three possessions, Fuller stayed in the entire first half and contributed three tackles.
  • Center Brian De La Puente suffered a knee injury late in the second quarter. The severity wasn't immediately known. De La Puente left the field under his own power, but shortly after the team announced he'd be out for the game. Williams suffered a hamstring injury on his touchdown reception and was unable to finish the game.
  • Non-participants Friday included Chris Conte and Craig Steltz, who remain on the physically unable to perform list. Tim Jennings (quadriceps) and Isaiah Frey (hamstring) were also held out along with Eben Britton (hamstring), Kyle Long (ankle), Jordan Mills (foot) and Bennett (suspension).

Final thoughts from Bills-Giants

August, 6, 2014
Aug 6
1:00
PM ET
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- As the focus shifts to the Buffalo Bills' next preseason game in Carolina, providing some final thoughts from the Bills' loss Sunday to the New York Giants:

    Branch
  • Where's Alan Branch? That was our first thought when the Bills' second-team defense saw its first action late in the first quarter. The Bills used Stefan Charles and Corbin Bryant as their top two reserves at defensive tackle behind Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams. Branch didn't see the field until after the two-minute warning of the first half, and then not again until later in the third quarter. For a 29-year old veteran who signed a three-year extension with nearly $4 million in guaranteed money last December, that is surprising. Branch failed the Bills' conditioning test to start camp, but presumably was the favorite to start if Dareus faces a suspension to start the season. Branch's roster spot might not be in jeopardy, but his playing time in Sunday's game indicates his position on the team has slipped since last season.
  • Linebacker Brandon Spikes said after Tuesday's practice that the defense "dominated" when the first team was on the field Sunday. Much of that success can be attributed to the push generated by the front four on the defensive line, which leads to this thought: How much will defensive end Jerry Hughes benefit next offseason from playing with three Pro Bowlers this season? Though the Bills' decision not to extend Hughes this offseason makes sense -- you probably want to see more than 16 games of production before handing out a long-term deal -- Hughes could hit it big in free agency next spring. If Williams and Dareus create double-teams inside, Hughes will face a lot of single-man protection on the outside.
  • As Seantrel Henderson and battles on the right side of the line have been the centers of attention along the offensive line, left guard Chris Williams has flown under the radar. He played the entire first quarter and the first drive of the second quarter Sunday. He was solid in pass protection. Against the run, he had a few notable breakdowns. Williams tried to cut block Jonathan Hankins on the back side of a Fred Jackson run but couldn't execute, allowing Hankins to stop Jackson in the backfield. That replay was shown on national television, so it was hard to miss. In the second quarter, Giants linebacker Devon Kennard was quick to diagnose a Bryce Brown run to the left, shooting the gap to Williams' left. Williams was slow to get off an inside double team and was blown back by Kennard, who stopped Brown for a loss.

Bears Camp Report: Day 10

August, 5, 2014
Aug 5
4:09
PM ET
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Chicago Bears training camp:
  • While the Bears actively monitor the waiver wire and scan the list of available free-agent wide receivers in the aftermath of Marquess Wilson’s fractured clavicle, Tuesday’s practice allowed the team to try out several different receiver combinations. Minus Wilson and veteran Brandon Marshall (coaches' decision), the Bears trotted out a three-wide receiver set to begin 11-on-11 drills that featured Alshon Jeffery, Eric Weems and Chris Williams. Weems, a former Pro Bowl return man in Atlanta, figures to be a lock to make the team based on his familiarity with the offense and immense value on special teams, but the remaining roster spots are wide open. According to quarterback Jay Cutler: “Eric Weems has had a great camp, but so have a number of other guys. Right now it’s too early to peg anybody. We’ll just see how it plays out.” Cutler later added the Bears expect Wilson back on the field in 2014 after he underwent surgery on Tuesday morning. But with no timetable set for Wilson’s return, the Bears do need to find a reliable option in the slot to bridge the gap over the first couple weeks of the regular season, at the bare minimum.
  • Cornerback Isaiah Frey suffered a right hamstring injury at practice and had to be carted back to the locker room. The Bears’ 2013 starting nickelback, Frey is facing an uphill battle to make the team with veterans Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, Kelvin Hayden and Sherrick McManis, plus rookie first-round draft choice Kyle Fuller ahead of Frey on the depth chart. Frey told reporters he plans to vigorously attack the required rehabilitation program, but stressed the importance of resisting the urge to return too soon from a pulled hamstring injury, since those types of injuries tend to linger.
  • Starting right tackle Jordan Mills hurt his foot at the tail end of Tuesday’s practice. Mills stayed and watched the final drill before walking off the field under his own power. Mills suffered a foot injury during pregame warm-ups in last year’s regular-season finale versus the Green Bay Packers that required offseason surgery. The Bears did not reveal the severity of the injury, but Mills seemed to be in good spirits when he arrived at lunch later in the afternoon.
  • Adrian Wilson and Ryan Mundy again took first-team reps at safety.
  • Jennings (quadriceps) and guard Eben Britton (hamstring) were held out of practice, but linebacker Lance Briggs fully participated after a knee injury kept him off the field for final portion of Monday’s session. Defensive end Jared Allen was excused from another practice due to personal reasons, while running back Shaun Draughn went through an entire practice following a couple of personal days away from the team.
  • The Bears' next scheduled practice is Wednesday at 9 a.m. CT.

Bills Camp Report: Day 13

August, 1, 2014
Aug 1
8:55
PM ET
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Buffalo Bills training camp:
  • The Bills got a pair of offensive linemen back at practice, with both Chris Williams (toe) and Chris Hairston (back) returning to action. Hairston stepped in with the second team at left tackle. He wasn't part of the mix at right guard, where Kraig Urbik and Cyril Richardson split first-team reps. Meanwhile, tight end Lee Smith returned to practice after missing Thursday's session with a lower body injury. The Bills were still without top tight ends Tony Moeaki (hamstring) and Scott Chandler (groin).
  • The Bills said after practice that wide receiver Marquise Goodwin was dealing with a hamstring injury. We saw Goodwin pull up after a 1-on-1 route in Thursday's practice, grabbing his hamstring. He participated in the rest of that session but didn't get many reps Friday night. It wouldn't be surprising if the Bills held him out Sunday.
  • After a second long week of practice, the offense was a bit sluggish as it closed out Friday's session. The Bills held a 1:28 drill (instead of a two-minute drill) and EJ Manuel's first three passes fell incomplete against the second-team defense. He recovered on fourth-and-10, hitting Mike Williams for a 20-yard gain. But as the offense crossed midfield, it stalled again, with a delay-of-game penalty preceding a Jacquies Smith sack as time expired. The second-team offense didn't fare much better, with Thad Lewis intercepted on the fourth play by cornerback Nickell Robey.
  • Following the two-minute drill, the Bills closed out their practice with a 7-on-7 drill in the red zone, as they've done for most of camp. Manuel overthrew Sammy Watkins on a fade pattern, then had Evan Rodriguez drop a pass across the middle. Manuel scrambled on his third play, and Watkins dropped a would-be touchdown on the final play. Not the best series. In an 11-on-11 red zone drill earlier in practice, Manuel overthrew Watkins on one play and was picked off by safety Jajuan Harley in the end zone on another before finding Robert Woods (twice) and Chris Gragg on touchdowns.
  • The Bills will travel to Canton, Ohio, on Saturday in advance of Sunday's Hall of Fame game against the New York Giants. The team isn't expected to be present for Andre Reed's induction ceremony but will take part in some other private events. We'll have coverage from Canton all weekend.

Bears Camp Report: Day 4

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
5:05
PM ET
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Chicago Bears training camp:
  • Expectations are sky high for a Bears offense that ranked No. 2 in the NFL last year in points scored (27.8 per game) and No. 5 in passing yards (267.6 per game), but the opening four days of practice have produced a mixed bag of results from a unit that is expected to return all 11 starters. Monday’s performance was no different. At certain points of the session, quarterback Jay Cutler ran the offensive scheme to perfection, firing completions to wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Marquess Wilson and tight end Martellus Bennett that went for huge gains. On the flip side, Cutler badly underthrew Marshall on a deep route into double coverage that should’ve been intercepted by Bears defenders who were stationed in the area. Veteran cornerback Kelvin Hayden later picked off a deflected Cutler pass in full-team 11-on-11, Hayden’s third interception since the start of camp. There were also batted-down balls at the line of scrimmage and botched snaps from the center to the quarterback that resulted in Cutler describing the offense as “good and bad.” Cutler continued: “That is to be expected taking the time off in July. We’re getting better and better. There’s been some sloppy stuff out there. We’ve got to clean it up. I think the guys are doing a really good job of just recognizing the plays and getting lined up and knowing the concepts and knowing the checks and everything. So if we just clean up some of the little things as we go, we’ll be all right.”
  • The Bears desperately need their top three draft choices to step in and make immediate contributions on defense. First-round pick cornerback Kyle Fuller looks the part and continues to receive extensive reps on the first team in base and nickel with Tim Jennings temporarily sidelined due to a sore groin. Third-round choice Will Sutton got thrown into the fire on Monday at three-technique defensive tackle as the coaching staff decided to give Jeremiah Ratliff a veteran’s day off. Sutton appeared to hold up OK versus the heightened competition. Rookie nose tackle Ego Ferguson flashes the ability to get up-field in one-on-one individual pass-rush drills, but Ferguson has ended up on the ground on at least three separate occasions since the pads came on. Ferguson needs to find the perfect combination of speed and balance to ensure he doesn’t take himself out of the play when games begin for real next month.
  • Fans chanted “Mega-Punt” whenever first-year punter Pat O'Donnell connected with the football on Sunday. Not to be outdone, punter Tress Way won the matchup between the two aspiring kickers on Monday. As a sixth-round draft choice, O'Donnell is considered the favorite to win the job, but Way has proved to those in the organization that he is an NFL-caliber punter. Even if Way is eventually released, he can still make it in the league. Former Bears “camp legs” have found gainful employment in the league: Spencer Lanning (Cleveland Browns) and Ryan Quigley (New York Jets).
  • Most of the wideouts competing for the final roster spots have done little to distinguish themselves. The two exceptions are Eric Weems and Chris Williams. Not only are Weems and Williams natural fits in the return game, they have managed to catch the football in camp. The other reserve receivers have been plagued by drops.
  • Pro Bowl right guard Kyle Long (viral infection) visited doctors on Monday, but the team cannot say if Long will be back on the field when it returns to work on Wednesday. With Long out, the Bears have worked various combinations at guard, with Eben Britton, Michael Ola and Brian de la Puente all seeing time with the starters.
  • Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (sore foot), receiver Terrence Toliver (toe), safety Chris Conte (PUP) and safety Craig Steltz (PUP) were all spectators on Monday.
  • The Bears are off on Tuesday. The next practice is scheduled for Wednesday at 9 a.m. CT.
How much does size matter?

To the Buffalo Bills, quite a lot. On Tuesday, we noted how the Bills have the NFL's tallest group of receivers. That's just one position, but it's not the only spot where the Bills top the league's charts -- at least on paper.

The Bills also have the NFL's heaviest offensive line, and it's barely even a contest. The average weight of their 15 offensive linemen is 325.2 pounds, far and away the biggest group in the league. Only the Oakland Raiders, at 320.3 pounds, come close.

Unlike at receiver, where most of the team's height is concentrated in players at the bottom of the depth chart, the Bills have both starting linemen and developmental blockers who break the scales.

Left tackle Cordy Glenn, who has started 29 games since being drafted in the second round two years ago, is listed at 345 pounds, making him the fourth-heaviest offensive lineman currently on an NFL roster. He's tied with rookie Seantrel Henderson, the Bills' seventh-round pick, who also checks in at 345 pounds.

In addition to Henderson, the Bills added 343-pound Cyril Richardson in the fifth round earlier this month. Ideally, Richardson and Henderson will both stick on the 53-man roster and could have eventually have potential to start.

The two draft picks are the latest in a pipeline of massive offensive linemen that general manager Doug Whaley has brought to Buffalo. They're projects for coach Doug Marrone, a former offensive line coach, as well as Pat Morris, the Bills' current offensive line coach.

The Bills ended last season with a trio of developmental guards who are on the larger side: Antoine McClain (336 pounds), Mark Asper (325 pounds), and J.J. Unga (320 pounds). Whaley plucked Unga off the Baltimore Ravens' practice squad, while McClain was claimed off waivers from the Raiders. All three may have an uphill battle to make the cut this season.

No matter who the Bills keep of their current bunch of 15, the size of the group will be striking. It's Whaley's vision to beat his opponents with superior size, and he'll have plenty of it along his offensive line this season.

But will it make the difference? Much like the Bills' ongoing expedition to find a productive, tall wide receiver, the Bills' super-sized offensive line will need to show that their eye-opening height and weight figures printed on the roster are more than just numbers.

The results will need to come on the field before Whaley's strategy can be given the stamp of approval. Take last season for instance. The Bills gave Colin Brown -- a mountain of a man, at 6-foot-7 and 326 pounds -- the nod at left guard to start the regular season. He struggled in five starts and was finding new work by October, replaced by an undersized Doug Legursky.

The Bills should be leery of a similar outcome with Chris Williams, a free agent whom they signed to a four-year deal in March. Williams, who is 6-foot-6 and 326 pounds, has a shaky track record as an NFL starter. He'll slide in at left guard. Could Buffalo be a good fit for him? Of course. But if it isn't, Legursky will be the likely fallback option.

Pass protection will be another consideration. Size and brute strength work well in the running game, especially in power blocking schemes, but technique and athleticism come more into play in the passing game. Glenn handled EJ Manuel's blindside well last season but there were breakdowns elsewhere. With new starters possible at both left guard and right tackle, keeping Manuel upright will be key this season.

In the meantime, the Bills have another distinction to celebrate. With rosters nearly complete after the draft, the Bills have emerged with the NFL's premier size at both receiver and offensive line.

Now they have to show why that matters, on the field -- where it counts.
ORLANDO, Fla. – Buffalo Bills coach Doug Marrone has a history of working with offensive linemen. That’s why Marrone sounded excited about working with free-agent pickup Chris Williams.

A first-round pick of the Chicago Bears in 2008, Williams has never lived up to expectations while bouncing between guard and tackle. He started 16 games at guard for St. Louis last season, but the Rams weren’t eager to re-sign him. But Marrone sees Williams as a reclamation project.

“I’ve been part of this before,’’ Marrone said during the AFC coaches breakfast at the NFL owners meeting Tuesday morning. “I was fortunate that I had a player, Jeff Faine, out of Cleveland that wasn’t playing that we were able to attain in New Orleans and he came in and performed at a Pro Bowl level and became the highest paid center in the league.

“My goal, my challenge, is to have the same type of thing happen with Chris. I’m excited about working with him. I know there are a lot of people that have a lot of question marks about him. I really don’t. I don’t at all. I’m fired up to work with him and he’s fired up.’’

Marrone believes Williams can be an impact player at left guard. That’s why the Bills gave him a four-year contract worth $13.5 million. Marrone said he thought Williams had enormous potential when he was coming out of college.

“I really liked Chris coming out,’’ Marrone said. “I really thought he had the skill that someone like myself was looking for in an offensive lineman. I know that things have not worked out as well for him or things have not gone the way he wanted them to go for himself or probably the team that picked him. It’s been tough. There have been struggles for him. People have gotten on him.’’

But, now, maybe it’s time for Williams to finally reach his potential.

In other news, Marrone said it’s possible the Bills will practice with the Pittsburgh Steelers during the preseason. Marrone also said cornerback Corey Graham, who the Bills signed in free agency, might be moved to safety.
After a flurry of activity last week, the Buffalo Bills were quiet on the free-agent front this weekend.

That gives us a chance to take a step back and assess what the team has done thus far. It's still early in the process -- the free-agent signing period began less than a week ago -- but the following is our early read on the Bills' moves.

Let's rank them, best to worst:

[+] EnlargeBrandon Spikes
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaSigning Brandon Spikes should shore up the Bills' run defense.
1. Signing Brandon Spikes: This is the player Bills fans wanted in Buffalo. Spikes adds toughness and physicality to a run defense that struggled at times last season. The Bills wanted to free up Kiko Alonso to make more plays, so they moved Alonso to the weak side and signed Spikes to take on more blockers at the line of scrimmage. Spikes can handle that load, and he'll have help in front of him from a pair of Pro Bowl defensive tackles: Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams. According to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, Spikes got a one-year, $3.25 million deal that can reach $3.5 million with incentives. The contract is incentive enough for Spikes; he'll be in a "prove-it" situation that could allow him to have greater value on the open market next offseason with a strong season in Buffalo.

2. Signing Corey Graham: The Bills may have overpaid a little here, but that's OK. Even if Graham doesn't slide into a starting spot, he figures to play the majority of defensive snaps. Cornerback play is as important as ever in the NFL, especially at the depth levels. If opposing offenses spread the field, Graham will be an asset in the slot or on the outside. Signing Graham also helps the Bills avoid a situation like early last season, when injuries forced Justin Rogers into the starting lineup. That wasn't a good fit for Rogers, but paying Graham $4 million per season is insurance against that happening again. Graham also adds value on special teams, where the Bills had issues last season.

3. Signing Keith Rivers: Of the Bills' moves thus far, this one may have flown under the radar the most, yet Rivers could have a significant role in the Bills' new defense. Since Spikes is a weaker player against the pass, Rivers will likely be part of sub packages on passing downs. He'll need to show off some athleticism that the New York Giants didn't see in him, as they turned to Jacquian Williams in that role instead. Overall, Rivers is expected to have a bigger role than he had in New York, which is where the Bills are gambling a bit. Still, it's a low-risk, high-upside signing, as the Bills signed Rivers for $5 million over the next two seasons. Their best move is to supplement the position in the draft.

4. Re-signing Dan Carpenter: The Bills got Carpenter back at an affordable price, paying him an average of $2.49 million over the next four seasons. If Carpenter keeps up his pace from last season -- when he didn't miss a kick after the first quarter -- he'll continue to be a quality find by the Bills' front office. Then again, if Dustin Hopkins is eventually waived and performs just as well elsewhere for a lesser price, the move to go with Carpenter won't look quite as good. Carpenter still needs to improve on his kickoffs, but he wasn't phased by the Buffalo weather on his field goals last season.

5. Signing Chris Williams: The Bills had a need at left guard. Was Chris Williams the best option available? Possibly. But why sign him to a deal with $5 million in guaranteed money? As much as general manager Doug Whaley disagrees with the term here, Williams was a bust with the Chicago Bears. Yes, he's still in the league -- but his play was shaky last season for the St. Louis Rams, and now the Bills are banking on him as their starting left guard. It's not going to crush the salary cap or doom the team if Williams flops, but it's just an odd move. Why not limit your contract offer to a one-year, "prove-it" deal and make Williams fight for a starting job?

Note: Financial terms for tight end Scott Chandler and running back Anthony Dixon are not yet available, so we'll hold them out of the ranking for now.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The free-agent frenzy that opened last Tuesday was one of the busiest and most expensive days in NFL history. But the St. Louis Rams stuck to their plan and mostly opted to sit on the sidelines.

Almost a week removed from the beginning of the free-agent period, the Rams have retained a couple of starters and seen their share of departures. The normal waves of free agency usually take longer than this year but it seems teams aren't waiting around to make their moves in 2014.

Here's where we stand after five days:

Retained

Saffold
OL Rodger Saffold

The deal: Re-signed with the Rams on a five-year, $31.7 million contract with $19.5 million guaranteed.

What it means: It was a wild week for Saffold but after one of the most bizarre free-agent scenarios in recent memory, the Rams kept their top offseason priority. Saffold will be the team's right guard moving forward and allows them more flexibility moving forward because of his versatility. St. Louis got lucky on this one but it doesn't matter how it happened so long as Saffold can stay healthy and produce.

LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar

The deal: Re-signed with the Rams on a two-year deal worth up to $3.5 million.

What it means: Dunbar will get a chance to rebound from a lost 2013 season and reunite with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams with the Rams. While Dunbar's role decreased because of the addition of Alec Ogletree last year, the Rams need more production from him when they do have three linebackers on the field. If Dunbar can return to his 2012 form, he fills another starting job and lessens the need for the Rams to add another outside linebacker in the draft.

Departures

Williams
OL Chris Williams

The deal: Signed a four-year, $13.5 million deal with $5.5 million guaranteed with the Buffalo Bills.

What it means: The Rams lost the one lineman who started all 16 games last year and provided some versatility with his ability to play multiple positions. But Williams was also the team's least effective starting lineman and a clear candidate to be upgraded heading into 2014. The Rams had interest in keeping him but had no intention of offering a similar type of deal. It also speaks to the ability of offensive line coach Paul Boudreau to maximize reclamation projects.

OG Shelley Smith

The deal: Signed a two-year, $5.5 million with the Miami Dolphins.

What it means: The loss of Smith is another subtraction from the Rams' depth on the offensive line but it's also not cause for much alarm. Smith lost a preseason battle for the starting left guard job to Williams and though he showed some ability as a run blocker, he struggled in pass protection and was often overmatched by the bigger, more physical front sevens in the NFC West. Again, Boudreau should be able to coach up someone else to provide similar production and depth to fill Smith's backup role on the interior. That depth could come from current options like Barrett Jones or Brandon Washington or a veteran free agent such as Davin Joseph or Daryn Colledge, both of whom have visited St. Louis.

TE Mike McNeill

The deal: Signed a two-year deal with the Carolina Panthers. Terms unknown.

What it means: Losing McNeill doesn't alter much in terms of the Rams' primary options at tight end but it does remove a versatile piece from the depth chart. McNeill was the team's fourth tight end and played sparingly in the offense. He was a trustworthy backup and a favorite of coach Jeff Fisher's but is a piece the Rams can replace rather easily, perhaps with late-season pickup Justice Cunningham.

Finnegan
CB Cortland Finnegan

The deal: Signed a two-year, $11 million deal with the Miami Dolphins.

What it means: The Rams released Finnegan at the start of free agency, creating valuable cap space and a hole in the secondary. The key here is how much the Rams can gain from this contract based on the offset language they had built in to Finnegan's contract. Depending on how Finnegan's deal with the Dolphins is structured, the Rams could gain an additional $3 million in cap space. Assuming he makes the team or possibly immediately based on a bonus, it's reasonable to think the Rams have a good chance at getting all of that $3 million in space back. The team also has an opening for another cornerback.

QB Kellen Clemens

The deal: Signed a two-year, $3 million deal with the San Diego Chargers.

What it means: We already knew the Rams were planning to grab a young quarterback in May's draft but this should only serve to reinforce that idea. What remains to be seen is whether the Rams want to carry a third, veteran quarterback to handle the No. 2 job until the unnamed rookie is ready. That's a role Clemens would have been ideal for but he did enough in 2013 to draw interest and land a well-deserved deal with San Diego. The Rams now have just two quarterbacks, starter Sam Bradford and Austin Davis, on the roster.

Triple Coverage: Bills sign Chris Williams

March, 12, 2014
Mar 12
4:08
PM ET
Chris WilliamsAP Photo/David SeeligWill newly acquired Chris Williams garner success on the Bills' offensive line in 2014?
The Buffalo Bills addressed a need along their offensive line Wednesday, signing former St. Louis Rams guard Chris Williams to a four-year, $13.5 million deal.

Williams, a former first-round pick, never panned out with the Chicago Bears. He started 16 games at left guard last season and now will have a chance to step into that same role with the Bills.

ESPN Bills reporter Mike Rodak, ESPN Rams reporter Nick Wagoner, and ESPN Chicago's Jeff Dickerson discuss the signing:

Rodak: Nick, how did the Rams' line as a whole perform last season? Did Williams make it better or worse?

Wagoner: As expected, the Rams had their share of injury issues on a line full of veterans. They were mostly solid, especially after the team refocused on the run game. But they also had their share of struggles, especially when they faced the dominant front sevens in the NFC West. Williams was the weakest link of the group, though he provided more durability than any of his linemates. He held up OK, but those division foes especially had a knack for getting the better of him.

Jeff, you saw Williams early in his career and when the Bears first tried to make him a guard. Did you ever envision he'd land a contract like the one he got from Buffalo?

Dickerson: Not a chance. The Bears touted Williams as their franchise left tackle of the future when the team selected him in the first round (No. 14 overall) of the 2008 NFL draft, but he hardly lived up to expectations and is considered one of the Bears' biggest draft busts, along with Gabe Carimi, in the last seven or eight years. His chronic injuries and uneven play ultimately led to his release. To be fair, Williams turned out to be much better suited to play inside at guard, however, he was never viewed as one of the elite guards in the NFL, except by the Bills, apparently.

Rodak: Jeff, Doug Marrone is a former offensive line coach and has valued size among offensive linemen early in his tenure with the Bills. Williams (6-foot-6, 326 pounds) is a load, but how effectively did he use his size with the Bears?

Dickerson: Again, I don't want to make it sound as if Williams was a terrible guard, but he never had the reputation of being an ultra-athletic or ultra-aggressive offensive lineman. Maybe that changed when Williams went to St. Louis. Obviously, he has the requisite size to play inside. Marrone is a terrific coach. Hopefully it's a good pairing. But his size was never viewed as a negative or a positive when Williams played in Chicago.

Rodak: Nick, what was your sense on how the Rams valued Williams? Do you think they wanted to bring him back as a starter?

Wagoner: They had interest in bringing him back, though I think it's likely if he'd come back he would have either been a backup or, more likely, in a competition for the starting job like he was in 2013. To me, it made sense if they could get him back to serve as a swing man simply because he could play anywhere on the line except center. Having a player like that at a cheap price is pretty much ideal for a backup. But I don't think they were going to extend themselves too far to bring him back. Offensive line coach Paul Boudreau has a great reputation for taking reclamation projects and getting something out of them. Although this is another starter subtracted from the line, I believe the Rams feel they can upgrade the starter at this spot and develop someone else to fill a backup swing role he could have had.

Jeff, something that applies to the Rams and Bills, but you saw up close. The Rams look like they're going to have to do some quick work to improve the line this offseason and they may have to use the draft to do so. It seems the Bears were able to do that last year, what did you see in how they were able to turn it around so quickly?

Dickerson: General manager Phil Emery double-dipped in free agency and the draft. He spent big bucks to land left tackle Jermon Bush and reunite him with his old New Orleans Saints offensive line coach Aaron Kromer, and followed that up by signing guard Matt Slauson. Both turned out to be major upgrades over what the Bears had in 2012. Then Emery drafted right guard Kyle Long in the first round and right tackle Jordan Mills in the fifth round to complement veteran center Roberto Garza. It was a stroke of pure genius.

Wagoner: The Rams might need some of that genius in the next couple of months here though when they lean on Boudreau to be their offensive line whisperer of sorts.

Mike, obviously this is a move that has Jeff and I scratching our heads, and I know you feel that way, too. What was the need for Buffalo on the offensive line, how do you see Williams fitting in and what do the Bills hope to get from him?

Rodak: Nick, the Bills have told Williams that they want him to be their left guard. That was a problem area for the Bills last season, as they never found someone reliable to step in for Andy Levitre. The Bills are big on Williams' size and if it works out, then he'll be an upgrade over Doug Legursky, who should ideally be their backup center. With the contract the Bills gave Williams, he should be starting at left guard on Day 1. If he's not, that's a problem. They're not paying him to be a backup, although with his versatility, he could help as a swing player at several positions. It's a signing that addresses an area of need but also comes with an element of financial risk.
Chris WilliamsAP Photo/Tom GannamChris Williams started all 16 games last season for the St. Louis Rams.
Financial discipline? Not finding it here.

In their first signing of free agency, the Buffalo Bills overreached by signing former St. Louis Rams guard Chris Williams to a four-year contract. According to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, the deal totals $13.5 million with $5.5 million guaranteed.

Williams has done little to prove he should be a full-time starter in the NFL. He was largely considered a bust with the Chicago Bears, who drafted him 14th overall in 2008.

The Bears wanted him to be a stalwart at tackle. He wasn't. The Bears moved him to guard in 2010. That didn't work out either. In October 2012, after Williams sat as a healthy scratch for two games, the Bears released him.

Williams caught on with the Rams and started all 16 games at left guard last season. The analytics website ProFootballFocus.com graded him as the worst player on the Rams and as one of the worst guards in the NFL.

The Bills are all too familiar with sub-par guard play: Colin Brown was thrown around early last season before being released, while Doug Legursky was often undersized and over-matched at left guard. Simply put, they were in need of an upgrade.

But to "upgrade" doesn't mean to "overpay," and that's what the Bills are doing with Williams. The Bills are trying to correct one mistake with another. It comes off as an overreaction.

Williams would have been a solid addition as a backup along the offensive line. He could kick outside in a pinch and may have even been an upgrade over Thomas Welch as a swing tackle. He would have also been an upgrade at backup guard, where the Bills had little to offer last season.

As a starter, though? The Bills are taking a gamble, and if it doesn't work out, they're left with an overpaid lineman sitting on their bench.

It isn't shocking that the Bills wanted Williams. Coach Doug Marrone has expressed a desire to get bigger along the offensive line. Williams (6-foot-6, 326 pounds) fits that bill, but his size doesn't necessarily mean that he's a quality starter.

Still, general manager Doug Whaley deserves some benefit of the doubt. Last spring, he traded for Jerry Hughes -- a former draft bust with the Indianapolis Colts -- and Hughes turned into a plus pass-rusher for the Bills.

The difference is that by trading for Hughes, the Bills didn't inherit any financial risk from the Colts. Had Hughes flopped in Buffalo, they could have released him and avoided paying his $3.9 million base salary this season, with no dead money implications.

In Williams' case, the Bills are banking on the former first-round pick being an "ascending" player after descending for most of his career. If he isn't, they're out $5.5 million in guaranteed money.

Between Williams and Kraig Urbik, who was underwhelming last season, the Bills could be spending more than $6 million in cap space on their guards this season. Whaley has said he wants to "build along the lines," but paying guards is often less of a priority in the NFL than centers, tackles or defensive linemen.

All around, this one is just a head-scratcher.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- As if the $42.5 million contract for Rodger Saffold with the Oakland Raiders didn't provide enough evidence of the NFL's desperation for offensive line help, the Buffalo Bills offered a resounding confirmation Wednesday when they agreed to an even more stunning contract with another former Rams lineman.

As ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported Wednesday morning, the Bills struck a deal with former Rams left guard Chris Williams on a four-year, $13.5 million deal with $5.5 million guaranteed. Yes, you read that right. I re-read it a few times to make sure I didn't have a digit off in some place.

Obviously, Williams' deal doesn't break the bank like Saffold's, but for those who followed the Rams in 2013, those contract numbers are every bit as surprising as the ones Saffold got. Saffold's contract was a surprise because of his injury history. There's no lack of talent there. Williams is a different story.

After a training camp battle for the starting job at left guard, Williams edged out Shelley Smith for the job. From there, Williams was the one reliable piece on the line, starting all 16 games. But durability was probably Williams' greatest asset, along with the versatility to play tackle.

In most games, Williams held up fine, particularly as a run-blocker with Jake Long next to him and after Zac Stacy took over as running back. Where Williams had trouble was when the Rams faced some of the league's better defensive fronts, especially in the NFC West. Arizona, Seattle and San Francisco gave him fits, and it was no coincidence the Rams struggled to get much of anything going offensively against those three teams.

For Williams to get a solid free-agent deal speaks more to a depressed offensive-line market and the work of Rams offensive line coach Paul Boudreau than anything else.

Aside from the top tackles, who flew off the shelves at expensive prices Tuesday, this free-agent market was mostly lacking attractive options along the interior. Saffold was probably the best guard on the market; he got paid like a tackle and may not even play guard in Oakland. After that, Geoff Schwartz was the best option after a solid 2013 season, but that was really the extent of his sample size of production in the NFL. The Rams made a play for Schwartz but were outbid by the New York Giants.

Washington
Jones
With Saffold, Schwartz and Jon Asamoah gone, teams in need of help on the offensive line (read: almost all of them) seem to be willing to take chances on players who provide experience and not much else.

Which brings us to Boudreau. He has long had a reputation for coaching up lesser-known players, getting production out of them, and seeing them land nice free-agent contracts. Williams was one of his most recent reclamation projects after the Bears released the former first-round miss. Boudreau also squeezed solid performances out of previously unproven guys like Joe Barksdale.

For the Rams, losing Williams likely means another opportunity for Boudreau to develop a young lineman like Brandon Washington or Barrett Jones. The Rams have already invested time and money in both.

But it should also be noted that the Rams aren't going to throw money around for an offensive lineman in this thin market knowing that Boudreau can do well with so-called lesser talent.

The real takeaway for the Rams should be the need to upgrade the talent beyond players like Williams.

Given the strength of the defensive fronts the Rams see six times a year in the NFC West, it's time to give Boudreau more to work with than simple clay, even if it means having a young group of rookies to coach up. Losing Saffold was a blow. Losing Williams provides a chance to get better.

Free-agency primer: Rams

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
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» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Key free agents: OL Rodger Saffold, QB Kellen Clemens, OL Chris Williams, OG Shelley Smith

Where they stand: The offensive line is the one area with the most questions heading into 2014. The larger-than-expected salary-cap increase will likely allow the Rams to retain one of their costlier veterans (probably center Scott Wells) to lessen the need a little, but the Rams still have a decision to make on guard Harvey Dahl and his $4 million cap number. Likewise, Saffold, Smith and Williams are set to become unrestricted free agents. The Rams badly want to keep Saffold and will push hard to do so with the idea that he can be a starter at one of the guard spots long term. Bringing back Williams or Smith would give them a potential starter inside or better yet, experienced depth. The secondary is the other area in need of reinforcements. St. Louis could probably use a starter and a backup at safety and another top-three-caliber corner with the pending release of Cortland Finnegan. Bringing Clemens back as a No. 3 who can tutor whomever the Rams draft in May might also make sense.

What to expect: The Rams have spent lavishly in free agency in each of their first two years under coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead. The results of those signings have been mixed at best, and the better signings have been the more midlevel moves, like signing and re-signing defensive end William Hayes and the addition of defensive tackle Kendall Langford. The Rams insist they're coming close to breaking through, and if they truly believe that, they'll have some young talent to re-sign in the next few years. Spending big in free agency isn't usually a path to success, and the Rams probably won't be very active this year, at least compared to the previous two. Many will connect the Rams to Tennessee cornerback Alterraun Verner, but that seems a bit overblown given what Verner is likely to cost. If Saffold departs, perhaps the Rams spend to find a piece on the offensive line or elsewhere, but if they have it their way, expect retaining Saffold to be the "big" free-agent move.
The free-agent market is scheduled to begin March 11 and teams may begin negotiations with those poised to hit the market beginning March 8. We'll count down to that with a position-by-position look at what the Rams have in place, who is set to hit the market, what they might need and who might fit the bill.

In place: It's no secret the Rams have some potential moving parts on the offensive line heading into free agency but things are beginning to crystallize before the market opens on March 11. Among the players who started most of 2013, left tackle Jake Long, right tackle Joe Barksdale and center Scott Wells are still in place.

[+] EnlargeRodger Saffold
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonRetaining Rodger Saffold could be the key to the Rams' offseason plans to upgrade the offensive line.
Long is recovering from a knee injury and his status for the first week is up in the air though the Rams remain optimistic he'll be ready for the opener. Barksdale had a solid season though he's scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent next year. Wells has long been considered a potential cap casualty but the larger-than-expected salary cap makes it more likely he'll stick around.

The biggest question here centers on guard Harvey Dahl, who carries a $4 million salary-cap number into next season and is coming off another season-ending injury. The Rams could make a move to create space now or see how other things play out before making a decision.

Beyond that quartet, the Rams have youngsters such as Brandon Washington, Barrett Jones and Mike Person whom they have been grooming in hopes they'll step in to help at some point. Center Tim Barnes started a few games at the end of the year in Wells' place and should be back to compete again.

Pending free agents: Rodger Saffold, Chris Williams, Shelley Smith, Barnes (exclusive rights/already tendered)

What's needed: The Rams' offensive line as a whole outperformed its individual pieces in 2013. A lot of the credit for that should go to offensive line coach Paul Boudreau. The Rams' presumptive starting five from the beginning of the year played just 295 of the team's 968 snaps together last season, checking in just above 30 percent. Only three other units around the league spent less time together on the field.

The thing about the missed time is that it was expected. The Rams entered the year with a veteran but injury-prone group and it lived up to that billing. That's what makes the offensive line the team's top priority heading into the offseason. They need to get younger and more talented so they can finally have a group that sticks together awhile without having some sort of major makeover every offseason.

Beyond that, the Rams want to be a physical, run-first offense in a division loaded with fearsome front sevens. They do just fine with Boudreau maximizing lesser talents but if they want to reach the next level, it makes sense to give him something better than regular old clay to work with.

In terms of specifics, the Rams could use help at both guard spots and a top-tier tackle who could start on the right side and become Long's future replacement.

Possible fits: The best in-house fit is Saffold. The Rams really want to bring him back but they're going to have a lot of competition. Bringing Saffold back would cure a lot of what ails the offensive line. He'd be the long-term option at guard and provide solid depth at tackle. That wouldn't mean they could just skip over the line in the draft but it would lessen the need. Coach Jeff Fisher has also said he'd like to bring Chris Williams back and that could make sense so long as he's cheap depth and not expected to be a starter. Some also are high on the potential of Smith, though I don't see it after watching him struggle against some of the league's better fronts. If Saffold departs, the Rams could look to spend some money on a veteran guard such as Denver's Zane Beadles or Kansas City's Jon Asamoah or Geoff Schwartz. The market for linemen doesn't look very strong, though.

Verdict: One way or another, the Rams are going to make some changes or moves along the offensive line. I tend to doubt Dahl will return though if Saffold leaves, maybe the Rams allow him to play the final year of his contract. Everything that happens here will depend on Saffold but I do expect the Rams to bring back at least one from the group of Saffold, Williams and Smith. When all is said and done, it would be a surprise if the Rams don't spend at least some free-agent money and draft capital addressing the offensive line.

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