Cardinals cornerback Tramon Williams closes in on a tackle against the Titans.
Game day has always been Tramon Williams’ friend, the time when speculation stops and proof arrives.
The veteran cornerback took advantage of it early in his career, progressing from an undrafted free agent to a Pro Bowler with the Packers. He’s benefitting from it now, becoming a revelation at the second cornerback spot opposite Patrick Peterson since joining the starting lineup in Week 7.
Williams still has three games left to pile up production, which is why he wasn’t ready for conjecture to replace substance on Thursday in a post-practice interview. As a reporter explained where Williams checked in on the list of the NFL’s oldest cornerbacks – second behind Terence Newman – he knew where the conversation was going.
“Oh, wow, dang, don’t do me like that,” Williams said. “You’re asking the questions already that I hear every offseason. Oh, he’s 34, finna be 35.”
“What’s next for this guy?” bellowed cornerback Justin Bethel, in his cheesiest NFL analyst impersonation, from an adjacent locker.
The future may be a touchy subject for NFL veterans, but it’s Williams’ success that has made it an intriguing discussion. The Cardinals have been in search of a stable cornerback complement to Peterson for several seasons, cycling through Jerraud Powers, Antonio Cromartie, Bethel, Marcus Cooper and Brandon Williams since 2013.
Williams was signed to a one-year deal in training camp, and didn’t seem like much of an option beyond 2017 at the time, but he’s played well enough to change that thinking.
He currently checks in with an 87.0 overall grade from Pro Football Focus, the best mark on the team. According to the analytics site, Williams has allowed 23 completions on 46 attempts for 244 yards and a touchdown while intercepting two passes. That equates to a quarterback rating allowed of 55.0.
Despite little interest throughout the offseason, ostensibly because of his age, Williams was always confident he could continue playing at a high level if given the opportunity.
“That’s the thing nowadays,” Williams said. “When you get to this age, it becomes more about your age than what you do on the field. I’ve never questioned it. I’ve been doing it my whole career.”
A youthful Williams would have been a great player to pair with Peterson at cornerback, but the fact he will be 35 in March could make it more of a year-to-year proposition. Even so, coach Bruce Arians is glad Williams is no longer young.
“We would never have gotten him,” Arians said, “unless we paid him about $20 million.”
It’s no accident that the Cardinals’ defensive improvement has coincided with Williams’ insertion into the lineup. Defensive coordinator James Bettcher said Williams’ success has come because of his incredible intelligence.
“You don’t have as many interceptions as he has in the NFL and not play with great awareness,” Bettcher said. “You see it when he’s jumped routes and you’re like ‘Why was he doing that?’ He knew what was coming, because there were two things that were coming and both of them, that’s how he could play them and play them aggressively. He attacks, he takes chances. I love it.”
Williams is realistic about this portion of his career. He knows that if he continues to perform, he will have a spot in the NFL, but also that the days of lucrative contracts are behind him.
“You get teams like this that actually look at your film and see what you can do,” Williams said. “There will always be teams like that out there. It is unfortunate that it’s always going to affect your pay, though.”
The end will come at some point, but Williams is on much stronger footing now than during his unemployed summer. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Cardinals wanted him back next season.
“After last week’s game, I asked him how much he had left in the tank,” Peterson said. “He said he’s got a lot left. Hopefully we can get him back. If not, that’s just the nature of the business.”
Williams said he is definitely going to play next season, and returning to the Cardinals would be an ideal option.
“I like the group of guys here,” he said. “A good group of veterans and young guys. I like the situation.”
And how about beyond 2018? Newman is 39 years old and still going strong.
“I don’t know, man,” Williams said. “That’s five years from now. The way I take care of my body, if I want to, I’ll be able to do it.”