EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - An eventful, productive 10-year career with Minnesota for Kevin Williams has taken a sharp turn toward a final chapter.
First, the Vikings forced him to take a pay cut. Then they drafted his probable replacement with one of their three first-round picks in April.
Williams didn't get to be a six-time Pro Bowl pick by being a pushover. The 6-foot-5, 310-pound defensive tackle doesn't plan to meekly fade away.
"If we can bring a young guy to help us win and he just so happens to play my position, so be it," Williams said. "I still think I'm the top dog here and until proven otherwise, we're going to go with it."
Under the hefty extension he signed right in 2006, Williams made $7 million last season. He was scheduled to draw the same salary plus $500,000 in incentives for 2013, but the Vikings docked that to $4.9 million plus a $100,000 bonus. The final year of his contract, at $7 million for 2014, was voided.
The giveback to Williams was that his salary this season was fully guaranteed.
Slashing salaries for veterans to manage salary-cap space, of course, is simply part of the off-season routine for NFL teams. Left guard Charlie Johnson and tight end John Carlson also had their contracts restructured in order to stick around. Cornerback Antoine Winfield was stunningly let go, and the hope the Vikings had of him returning at a lower rate was dashed when he signed with Seattle.
Williams, the longest-tenured player on the team and the only one on Minnesota's defence who was here prior to 2006, has endured all kinds of ups and downs since he was taken with the ninth overall pick in the 2003 draft out of Oklahoma State.
Only eight of his 56 1/2 career sacks (14 per cent) have come in the last three seasons (30 per cent of his tenure), one sign of decline. Rather than leave with an unceremonious release, Williams decided to try to close out what will likely be his final year here on a high note.
"Kevin's a pro's pro," coach Leslie Frazier said. "He's one of those guys I lean on when we're trying to get things done here. I'm just very, very grateful he's come back and wants to be a part of what we're trying to get done."
The Vikings drafted Sharrif Floyd from Florida with the 23rd selection in the first round. Forgive Williams if he wasn't thinking about Floyd's potential impact in, say, 2016 when the Vikings move into their new stadium. The 32-year-old Williams is focused on getting the most out of 2013, ideally improving upon that 10-6 record and one-and-done playoff appearance last season.
Williams said he considered skipping these so-called optional spring practices, known in the collective bargaining agreement as organized team activities. In the end, he saw that like balking at the pay cut even though he didn't like it. What, really, would the point of that be?
"It's just a chance to get better. We've got a lot of young guys. If we're going to count on these young guys, they need some type of veteran leadership around showing them the right ways to do things," Williams said. "I take it on myself to be a leader and, yeah, maybe me and the front office didn't agree on the contract situation, but I'm still here to do a job."
So, rook, take note.
"Just pay attention," Williams said. "Don't be the guy that you always have to repeat stuff to. You're not always going to get a rep at something, so try and absorb it up when the older guys do it, and it will save on all the confusion and the bickering over whether you're getting the plays right."
Floyd, in his first week with the full team, spoke like the newbie that he is.
"It's been great having a teacher in front of me who's been through it before, a decade-plus," Floyd said. "It's great. I'm glad I've got that in front of me to learn from and to build off of."
Follow Dave Campbell on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/DaveCampbellAP
© Copyright 2013