The past few days have been sad ones in the Windy City for fans of the Chicago Bears, but a quiet signing made by the team on Friday could wind up being the biggest coup of free agency when all is said and done.
Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune reports that the Bears came to terms with D.J. Williams on a one-year contract that will pay the 30-year-old $900,000 in base salary in 2013, with a maximum value of $1.75 million.
"We are happy to welcome D.J. to the Bears and are excited to start working with him," general manager Phil Emery said in a news release. "This is a great opportunity for D.J. to restart his career after coming off suspension for part of the 2012 season. We see a player that has very good athletic upside who can contribute immediately at (middle) linebacker. He is also a versatile player who has played both outside linebacker positions, giving us flexibility in the draft."
At first glance, fans of Bears great Brian Urlacher, whom the team broke off contract negotiations with earlier in the week, may have a hard time finding something to like about a potential replacement who had all of 14 tackles last year and spent much of the season suspended.
However, look a little deeper and there's not much not to like about this deal.
Yes, the 2012 season was a disaster for Williams.
The 10th-year pro was suspended for a whopping nine games last year. Six were for reportedly supplying a "non-human" urine sample during a drug test. Three more games were tacked on after Williams was convicted of driving while impaired, stemming from a 2010 arrest, his second for DUI in Denver. The Broncos were tired of Williams' act and cut him loose.
Well, that and the fact that they owed him a $6 million salary and had replaced him with Wesley Woodyard.
You see, back in 2008, the Broncos handed him a five-year, $32 million contract extension, after Williams' first brush with the law.
Because he was (and still can be) a very talented linebacker.
Three times in four seasons from 2007-2010, Williams topped 100 tackles in Denver; it likely would have been four years out of five had Williams not missed three games in 2011. He also had 16.5 sacks and seven forced fumbles over that stretch.
He's also a very versatile player, as Zach Zaidman of the Bears Radio Network points out.
D.J. Williams started at weakside (39), inside (31), strongside (29) and middle (16) linebacker positions for the Broncos during his career— Zach Zaidman (@ZachZaidman) March 22, 2013
If D.J. Williams keeps his head on straight, he's more than capable of at least producing at the level Urlacher would have for the Bears in 2013. It's not at all unreasonable to expect that he'll play significantly better than that.
But what really makes this a great deal is that there's virtually no risk.
It's a classic "prove it" deal. If Williams plays well, the team can consider extending him, but if he can't stay out of trouble, then the Bears' financial commitment is minimal.
Part of the reason why the Chicago Bears only offered Brian Urlacher $2 million a season was that the team just doesn't have a lot of cap space. It would have taken some wrangling to free up the money necessary to replace Urlacher with a bigger name like Karlos Dansby.
With Williams, the Bears were able to acquire a capable pro at a "scratch and dent" table price. If Williams keeps his nose clean, he'll be a bargain acquisition for a team with postseason aspirations.
And often, it's those deals, even more than the "big splash" signings, that end up making all the difference.