ENGLEWOOD—Jonathan Williams became the beneficiary of a multiteam bidding process.
The former Arkansas Razorbacks’ running back had just been cut prior to the start of his second NFL season by the Buffalo Bills and the bidding began for his practice squad services.
The Williams War came down to Kansas City, Minnesota, the New York Jets and the Broncos. Williams was leveraged into receiving a whopping $30,000 a week practice-squad salary – more than four times the usual pay – from Denver.
“I wasn’t mad about it,’’ Williams said in front of his locker following his first practice Wednesday with the Denver Broncos. “It is nice, definitely. I don’t want to be known for that. I’m just trying to come in and learn this offense. Get used to it. It’s a lot different being in Buffalo one day and a couple days later being with a whole new team, so just trying to get my feet underneath me.’’
The Chiefs had let go of star running back Jamaal Charles during the offseason and lost starter Spencer Ward to a season-ending injury in their first preseason game. They needed Williams.
The Vikings for the first time in years aren’t building their running game around Adrian Peterson. They had a need for Williams.
The Jets, whose top rusher, Matt Forte, turns 32 in December, were in on Williams.
Practice squad salaries start at $7,200 a week. The Broncos might have spent more than they would have liked for a practice-squad player. But not only did they get Williams, the Chiefs didn’t.
“I just felt like this could be the best fit,’’ Williams said. “They have a great history. They have really good guys in the front office. I like coach (Vance) Joseph, he was a really good guy to talk to. I looked at this roster and knew this was going to be a good team and I wanted to be a part of a winning team.’’
At Arkansas, Williams and Alex Collins, who is now on the Baltimore Ravens’ practice squad, were a terrific rushing duo in 2013-14. Williams rushed for 900 yards as a sophomore and 1,190 yards as a junior when he decided to return for his senior year for the noblest of reasons.
“I was about to come out after my junior year but I decided to stay and graduate,’’ Williams said. “And increase my draft status as well. I stuck around my senior year and wound up with an injury.’’
He got his degree in communications in just four years at Arkansas – no small feat given the full-time rigors of major-college football. But in an August, 2015 preseason scrimmage, Williams suffered a Lisfranc injury to his left foot.
“Trying to get a first down, somebody stepped on my foot kind of weird when I planted,’’ he said. “I stayed in a couple more plays. I tried to push off on it a couple plays later and it just gave out on me.’’
He needed surgery to repair the injury and his draft stock fell to the fifth round and Buffalo. He made a full recovery but the people who drafted him – namely head coach Rex Ryan and general manager Doug Whaley – were fired after last season and the new leaders left Williams vulnerable after a rookie season in which he rushed for 94 yards on 27 carries.
Before the Broncos signed Williams, their tailback group was full with C.J. Anderson, Jamaal Charles, Devontae Booker and De’Angelo Henderson. Given Williams’ salary, the arrangement figures to change by season’s end.
Although Williams is in football shape after rushing for 121 yards on 5.8 yards per carry in the preseason, he will likely need at least two weeks to get up to speed on the Broncos’ playbook.
But he will do all he can to get promoted to the Broncos’ 53-man roster in time for their week 3 game at Buffalo against the team that just cut him.
“Everything I can,’’ he said. “Definitely. We’ve got a lot of good coaches. Coach E (Eric Studesville), the running backs coach here is a really good coach. A guy that’s been working with me already, even though this is my first day so I’m excited to see what the future holds.’’