Avery Williamson wasn’t the most expensive defensive acquisition of the New York Jets’ offseason, but he may be the best.
The inside linebacker, who signed a three-year, $22.5 million contract in March after four seasons with the Tennessee Titans, will fill the shoes of Demario Davis.
Davis performed well in 2017, but Pro Football Focus actually rated Williamson higher. The latter graded out as the NFL’s best interior linebacker against the run last season — significantly better than Davis. Best of all for the Jets: Williamson’s deal is $1.5 million cheaper than the one Davis, who is three years older, received from the New Orleans Saints over the same length of time.
Originally a fifth-round pick by Tennessee, Williamson quickly carved a role for himself in an emerging defense thanks to his sound tackling and propensity to seemingly be everywhere at once. Head coach Todd Bowles had referred to him as a “tackling machine.”
“I felt like I was flying around, and that’s what I do,” Williamson said of his preseason performance against the Giants, a game in which he tallied nine tackles and forced a fumble. “That’s my game, flying around and making plays out on the field.”
Williamson’s deal pales in comparison to the beaucoup bucks the Jets threw at cornerback Trumaine Johnson, who left the Los Angeles Rams to accept a five-year, $72.5 million contract — the richest any free-agent defensive player received this year.
While the 26-year-old linebacker doesn’t bring a three-down reputation to New York — he wasn’t utilized often on passing downs — Williamson rarely left the field win such situations this preseason. The regular season will provide a better indication of how he fares as an all-purpose defensive player. He’s eager to shake the two-down linebacker label.
“I know I’m a three-down backer,” Williamson told the New York Daily News in June. “I know I got the skill set to do anything on the field. Shoot, I feel like I fit in perfectly with this defense.”
Even as a two-down linebacker, Williamson has averaged 94.3 total tackles per year and registered 11.5 sacks since entering the league in 2014. If he’s playing every down, don’t be surprised if he sets a career high in sacks and makes his first Pro Bowl.