Jamaal Wiliams drew plenty of interest as an unrestricted free agent this offseason, but the veteran running back ultimately landed with the New Orleans Saints. Why did Williams depart the Detroit Lions, and what made the Saints want to add the eighth-year pro?
Jamaal Williams Gave the Saints Alvin Kamara Insurance
Williams, who spent four years with the Green Bay Packers before a two-year stint with the Lions, inked a three-year, $12 million deal to join the Saints. He received the third-largest RB contract — by total value — during the 2023 free agent period, trailing only Miles Sanders and David Montgomery, the latter of whom replaced Williams in Detroit.
The Lions had expressed interest in re-signing Williams, but he felt that Detroit had moved on and considered their offer “disrespectful.” The Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, and New York Jets also had Williams on their radars during the offseason, but New Orleans presented the best contract proposal.
The Saints needed an insurance policy behind Alvin Kamara. While the NFL had not announced Kamara’s three-game suspension for a 2022 altercation when New Orleans signed Williams, it was evident in the spring that the league would levy some sort of punishment against the Saints’ starter.
Kamara will miss one more game before making his 2023 season debut in Week 5. At that point, he and Williams should form a thunder-and-lightning duo and help take the pressure off Derek Carr and New Orleans’ passing game.
Even after signing Williams, the Saints weren’t done supplementing their backfield. General manager Mickey Loomis used a third-round selection on TCU running back Kendre Miller, who could add yet another dimension to New Orleans’ ground attack.
Miller dealt with a knee injury over the summer before a hamstring issue prevented him from playing in Week 1. He’s listed as questionable for the Saints’ Week 2 contest against the Carolina Panthers.
Williams Led the NFL in Rushing Touchdowns in 2022
Of course, the Saints also wanted to add Williams to their roster during the offseason because he’s simply good at football.
Williams had always been a competent running back through his first five NFL campaigns, but he took his game to another level with the Lions in 2022. He handled the most touches (274) and managed the most total yards (1,139) of his career while leading the league with 17 rushing touchdowns.
Part of Williams’ 2022 success was based on sheer opportunity. Detroit’s offense ranked fifth in EPA per play last season, allowing Williams to dominate carries in the red zone and near the goal line.
Williams saw 41 attempts inside the 10-yard line, 13 more than second-place Joe Mixon. The gap was even more stark inside the 5-yard line, where Williams received 29 carries, nearly double that of Derrick Henry.
Williams earned 85.3% of Detroit’s rush attempts inside the 5, the sixth-highest rate in the NFL. He scored 12 of his 17 rushing touchdowns on those carries.
Not every advanced metric was kind to Williams last season. He ranked just 28th in yards after contact per attempt and 31st in rushing yards over expectation per attempt, suggesting that he’s capable of getting what’s blocked but not much more.
But for the Saints, that might be enough.