Chris Williams was billed as the offensive tackle of the future when the Chicago Bears selected him in the first round of the 2008 draft (14th overall).
That never panned out.
After a little more than four seasons with the team, the Bears today officially terminated Williams’ contract. He is now a free agent. As a vested veteran, he’s due the balance of his $1 million base salary in 2012.
His release caps off a tumultuous ride in the Windy City and one that isn’t all that much of a surprise, considering the series of events that played out this year.
After two years as the starter at left guard, Williams was offered a shot at again claiming the starting left tackle gig. A training camp competition ensued, yet J’Marcus Webb emerged the winner. That left Williams as the club’s swing tackle.
Yet Williams’ performance in camp, as well as his general attitude toward OC Mike Tice, landed him in the coordinator’s doghouse, where he’s been all season. Even when Chris Spencer failed at left guard, a position where Williams was having success last season, Tice chose to go with Chilo Rachal as the new starter, despite Rachal having no experience on the left side.
Williams said at the time he had not been approached about playing in his old left guard spot.
OL Chris Williams
“No,” a surly Williams told Bear Report in mid-September. “I’ve been taking reps everywhere since camp started, so I just go where [Tice] puts me.”
I asked him then if he’d be willing to move back inside to guard.
“I would welcome a move back to the field any time,” Williams said.
Also in September, the team signed veteran offensive tackle Jonathan Scott, indicating Tice might be on the verge of sending Williams packing. When Williams was de-activated on game day last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the writing was on the wall, although Tice played it off publicly.
“Well, we wanted to give Jon a chance. Jon had not suited up [yet this season],” Tice said last week. “In the minimal role our backup tackle has in the game, we were going to utilize him a little bit in goal line. And also not the only reason, but he’s our backup deep-snapper, too, and a legitimate one. But we wanted to give Jon a chance to suit up. We brought him in. He’s been a good player in this league. And it was his turn up.”
Yesterday, Lovie Smith also downplayed Williams’ de-activation.
“Just like all of our players, you’ll have different roles during the season,” Smith said. “Chris realizes that. He’s coming to work every day just like the rest of the team is.”
For both Smith and Tice, that’s coach speak for “he’s done here.” Scott will now serve as the team’s swing tackle.
Williams has been a disappointment since being drafted out of Vanderbilt. He has never shown the ability to be a consistent blindside protector. While he was decent at guard, he was far from a mauler. With him and Tice butting heads, there was no reason to keep a player that obviously no longer wanted to be with the team.
GM Phil Emery surely tested the trade waters over the bye week but obviously no team wanted to give up assets for a first-round bust that couldn’t even beat out Webb, a former seventh rounder, for the starting LT gig.
Of all the first-round selections by former GM Jerry Angelo, Williams was one of only two remaining on the current roster. His departure leaves just Gabe Carimi as the last vestige of the Angelo era.
To replace Williams, the Bears re-signed CB Zack Bowman. Bowman started 16 of 46 games played over four seasons (2008-11) with the Bears after being selected by Chicago in the fifth round (142nd overall) of the 2008 NFL Draft, recording 117 tackles, seven interceptions, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries – including one for a touchdown - and 22 special teams stops. The 6-1, 195-pound cornerback signed with the Minnesota Vikings this offseason but was released prior to the start of the regular season.
Most Bears fans will remember Bowman from Week 16 last season, when gave up three touchdowns to the Green Bay Packers. He at least adds depth to special teams, where Williams had no value.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.