Prior to the start of the season, the Ravens secondary was looked at as one of the best units in the league.
Cornerback Lardarius Webb earned himself a $50 million extension, Jimmy Smith was healthy after an injury-plagued rookie campaign and Cary Williams was confident enough in his abilities that he turned down a contract extension offer reportedly worth $15 million.
Webb, Smith and Williams are all trying to accomplish in Baltimore what Chris McAlister was able to do during his ten seasons in Baltimore – win a Super Bowl as a shutdown corner.
McAlister joined the Purple and Black Attack show at Hightopps earlier this week to speak with hosts Brad Jackson and me about the Ravens secondary, and more specifically, Williams.
In 2004, McAlister signed a seven-year, $55 million extension with the Ravens before ultimately being released in 2009. As someone familiar with big deals, McAlister was able to shed some light onto Williams’ mindset.
“As a player, if there is something on the table, you normally take it,” he said. “If you feel like you’re worth more than that, then you [decline], but you have to be very confident if you turn that down and go put up numbers.”
Putting up numbers is exactly what Williams has done as he finds himself tied for third in the conference in interceptions. As of November, Cary led AFC cornerbacks in votes for the Pro Bowl. The Pro Bowl rosters won’t officially be announced until Wednesday but it’s expected that Williams will earn his first trip to Hawaii, even though Champ Bailey of Denver (who, coincidentally, was drafted just three spots ahead of McAlister in the 1999 draft) eventually surpassed him in fan votes.
“Regardless, if he doesn’t get the big contract or the money he’s looking for here, everyone else is looking at that film,” McAlister said. “So he has to put on tape week after week that he’s worth it.”
The playing styles of Williams and McAlister are extremely different. While fans grew used to McAlister jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage, Williams often plays off the line, typically seven yards away.
Many fans grow weary with the cushion Williams allows. McAlister spoke about why Cary may choose to play that way.
“I think that every corner is different, there is really no two corners built the same,” he said. “When I was in college, I did a lot of press man, so coming into the NFL, I liked to stay in my own comfort zone which was getting up on receivers and playing press.”
“Today, there are so many different techniques coaches are teaching, I don’t know why these guys play off,” said McAlister. “Maybe it’s the restrictions of the defense or their restrictions on their athletic ability.”
Williams has shown at times he will jam a receiver off the line of scrimmage but it’s rare compared to how often he plays off.
“The one thing receivers hate more than anything is to be touched,” McAlister said when asked why he jammed so frequently. “Whenever you can, you’ve got to bother them and break up the timing with the quarterback – because he’s supposed to be at a certain depth at a certain time.”
Admittingly, McAlister said he would have issues trying to adapt to the current NFL system the way the game is played today.
“I couldn’t play, it’s ridiculous,” McAlister said when talking about how beneficial rules are to the offensive players. “It’s bad enough they only let you jam for five yards, now you can’t hit anybody?”
The Ravens have made the commitment financially to Webb in an effort for him to be the team’s next shutdown corner. As for Williams’ status with the team, after listening to McAlister, it looks like he’ll go to the highest bidder next season, which probably won’t be Baltimore.