Ravens face tough decision with Brandon Williams

February 08, 2017 | Luke Jones

The Ravens want Brandon Williams back, and the nose tackle would prefer to stay in Baltimore.

If only it were that simple.

Assistant general manager Eric DeCosta made it clear at the Senior Bowl last month that re-signing Williams is “a really important part of the puzzle” for the Ravens’ offseason. The fifth-year defensive lineman knows his worth — DeCosta offered him a reminder of that — but he says he won’t automatically go to the highest bidder in free agency, either.

“When you’re in Baltimore, you know what you’re getting,” Williams told WNST.net in Houston last week. “You know who you’re getting, you know who you’re dealing with, you know who your teammates are, you know who your coaches are. Going to a new team, new scheme, new plays, new playbooks, not knowing really what to expect over here. If it’s close enough to where I have to make that decision — where it comes down to that decision — I’m staying in Baltimore.

“I like Baltimore, my family is in Baltimore, my son is going to school [there], and stuff like that. I would pick that — if it’s close. If that’s the factor that makes or breaks the decision, then I’ll stay in Baltimore if it’s close.”

But where is the tipping point for each side?

Considered one of the best run-stopping nose tackles in the NFL, Williams will presumably attempt to use the five-year, $46.25 million deal — $24 million of it guaranteed — the New York Giants awarded Damon Harrison last offseason as a baseline, especially with the salary cap expected to rise again in 2017. Turning 28 later this month, Williams is unlikely to have another chance for a lucrative payday and is only a month away from having other teams vying for his services. The 2013 third-round pick didn’t imply last week that contract talks with the Ravens were ongoing, but that could certainly change at any moment.

On the flip side, how should the Ravens value Williams, who has not only been strong on the field but has been a high-character guy in the locker room and active in the community?

The beefy nose tackle is a very good player and has been a linchpin of the run defense, but the Ravens have also gone 13-19 over the last two seasons and must address a plethora of needs this winter. Giving Williams north of a $50 million contract would undoubtedly hinder the ability to improve other areas of the roster that haven’t been good enough.

If the Ravens were to lose Williams, would adding another defensive tackle even become their top priority when young options such as Michael Pierce, Carl Davis, and Willie Henry are waiting in the wings? It’s not ideal to weaken one of the roster’s biggest strengths, but Baltimore has shown a consistent ability to find talent on the defensive line through a variety of channels over the years with the undrafted Pierce being the latest example last season.

General manager Ozzie Newsome hasn’t invested big money in a defensive tackle since 2011 when he signed Haloti Ngata to a five-year, $61 million contract, but he was a better all-around player on a championship-caliber roster at the time. Losing Williams would definitely hurt, but exhausting too many resources to keep him could hurt a roster in need of playmakers on both sides of the ball.

When mired in mediocrity for the better part of four years, you can’t be afraid to be bold, which sometimes means taking a hit in the short term. If letting go of the talented nose tackle means the Ravens can bring in a high-impact wide receiver or cornerback, it’s worth it in the long run.

Williams is deserving of a big payday, but the Ravens doing whatever it takes to keep him isn’t going to magically get them over the hump in 2017. You can’t afford to be in love with your own players when your roster is in need of more than just subtle tweaks and there’s only so much salary-cap space to go around.

That’s why a deal may not make sense for either side in the end.

Even when they both want it.