One of the biggest stories for the Arizona Cardinals coming out of training camp was what would happen with running back Ryan Williams. He was drafted in 2011 in the second round and made quite the impression with beautiful moves and cuts in training camp, only to see his first two seasons taken away with injury.
He entered his third season with high hopes and was solid during offseason workouts, but his knee gave him trouble in training camp and he missed a couple of weeks, which led to his roster spot being in question. He made the team, but clearly had fallen a bit out of head coach Bruce Arians' graces. He was inactive for all 16 games this season, the only player on the team to not to be active for any game.
Now the question for many fans once again is what will happen to Williams.
He is entering the final year of his rookie contract. His base salary is a little more than $1 million and his salary cap number is around $1.5 million.
Last season's starter, Rashard Mendenhall, was only on a one-year contract and seemed to be a one-year rental as the team drafted a pair of running backs in Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor. Mendenhall is a free agent and many expect him to not return, even though Arians one of his biggest fans.
That again opens the door for Williams. Will he run through it in 2014, or will he stumble under pressure or fall prey to yet another injury?
I have had a theory for some time about Williams and why he has been on the roster -- I believe his roster spot is the decision of general manager Steve Keim.
It was Keim that scouted him and loved him coming out of college. Williams, after he was drafted, which was a surprise to many fans at the time, that he was told that if he was still available when the Cardinals picked in the second round, he would be their guy. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt refuted that he ever told Williams that (it was assumed by many that it was Whiz that said it) that, but it was made clearer.
Heading into the end of training camp and the preseason, Williams got a pep talk from Keim. Williams spoke of the trust he had in Keim, and revealed that it was the now general manager that told him that he would be Arizona's pick.
I don't know if every player on the bubble of the roster gets that sort of talk from the general manager (it seems very unlikely), but Williams did.
Keim was the one that told Williams how much he believes in him and how much he and the other coaches wanted to see Williams on the field.
Putting two and two together makes me believe that Keim still sees great potential from the running back, perhaps to the point of maybe disagreeing with Arians. Williams stayed on the roster all season and Arians kept him inactive. Mendenhall was Arians' guy and Williams is Keim's guy -- again, this is pure speculation, but that is the impression I get.
I believe that Keim believes in Williams enough that he wants him back again to battle for a spot to prove that he can do what Keim believed he would be.
Williams keeping a spot on the roster was looking to 2014, once Mendenhall (presumably) is no longer with the team.
That will allow him to battle Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington for playing time in training camp. While Ellington will likely fill a similar role he did this season -- part-time running back, part-time receiver, Taylor and Williams would be the two guys battling for Mendenhall's carries.
I certainly do not think that Williams has a 2014 roster spot locked up, but while he carries a moderately high cap number, he will be with the team during the offseason and will begin training camp with the team. If he can earn a Mendenhall role, then he is worth the $1.5 million. If he cannot, then he will have had a fair shot.
But as to the question many have had -- why is the team "wasting" a roster spot on Williams? It may very well be because the GM wants him around. He will get one final shot to prove Keim right.