Cary Williams went from Seahawks’ starting cornerback to inactive in sweatpants on the sideline to gone -- in nine days.
The Seahawks announced Monday afternoon they cut Williams, the veteran to whom they are paying a guaranteed $3.5 million this season. Williams started the first 10 games after signing as a free agent in March. Seattle also paid him a $3.5 million signing bonus.
So that’s $7 million for 10, subpar games before the Seahawks decided to literally cut their losses with Williams.
Williams signed a three-year, $18 million contract this spring, but the 2016 and ‘17 seasons of it were not guaranteed. The Seahawks will take a $2.33 million hit against their 2016 salary cap, the "acceleration" accounting cost for the final two years of his signing-bonus proration.
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He struggled to master the team’s unique, "step-kick" technique of jamming receivers immediately after the snap at the line and then turning and running with them. Williams also repeatedly blew the same zone coverages on wide receivers and tight ends. Him making the same mistakes over and over prompted coach Pete Carroll and defensive coordinator Kris Richard to replace Williams with former undrafted safety and nickel defensive back DeShawn Shead for the final 1½ quarters of the win three games ago over San Francisco.
Shead made his second consecutive start for Williams at cornerback opposite Richard Sherman in surging Seattle’s 38-7 win at Minnesota. In his debut at cornerback the week before against Pittsburgh, Shead had four pass break-ups.
Williams had four pass break-ups all season.
"It was a short amount of time to try to catch up with all of the real specifics of our technique," Carroll said. "But he did a nice job. He progressed with it.
"We feel more comfortable with the guys that have been with us, so we made the move."
Williams is the second starter to lose his job since the Seahawks (7-5) started this uneven season 2-4. Drew Nowak started the first five games at center, then got cut and re-signed to the practice squad.
Asked if the failed signing of Williams will make he and the Seahawks more weary of signing veteran cornerbacks established in other techniques different from Seattle’s, Carroll said: "Possibly."
In early October it looked like Williams would be Seattle’s starting cornerback through this season and beyond. He went facemask to facemask with Detroit’s Calvin Johnson in a strong coverage night in the close win over the Lions.
"I definitely don’t feel like they did me a favor by letting me go. But it may have been a favor," Williams said of the Eagles, "because I feel like I am in a better place and in a better position. I’m a lot happier in this position and in this place, you know what I mean?
"I guess what was meant for bad and turned out good – for me."
Then it turned bad again. The Lions game turned out to be an exception, not the start of sustained progress.
The step-kick requires a cornerback to line up a yard or two directly in front of the receiver and take an immediate step laterally with his outside foot. That’s to buy time; the defender waits almost in place as the receiver does all his shakes and jukes in an attempt to get past the jam.
The "kick" is throwing the foot back, away from the line of scrimmage, to turn and run with the receiver while staying in front of him.
Carroll was an All-Pacific Coast Athletic Conference defensive back at Pacific in 1971 and ’72, and a defensive backs coach starting in 1978 at Iowa State after that. He was at a Raiders-49ers joint training-camp practice in the early 1980s and saw Oakland’s Hall of Famer Willie Brown doing the step-kick.
Carroll’s been teaching it ever since. He’s unique in the NFL in doing so – as Williams found out.
"Putting the outside foot up and down, that was hard, because in some places I’ve always put my left (inside) foot up. And then I’d press back, move a little bit, shuffle-slid," Williams said in October. "It was a lot of inconsistencies."
And it never really improved.