Within nine days, Cary Williams went from the Seattle Seahawks’ starting cornerback to inactive in sweatpants on the sideline during games — to being released.
The Seahawks on Monday released Williams, the veteran to whom they are paying a guaranteed $3.5 million this season. He started the first 10 games after signing as a free agent in March. Seattle also paid him a $3.5 million signing bonus.
That’s $7 million for 10 subpar games. The Seahawks decided to literally cut their losses with the former Super Bowl starter for Baltimore who never fully showed he had learned Seattle’s system.
Williams signed a three-year, $18 million contract this spring, but the 2016 and ’17 seasons were not guaranteed. The Seahawks will take a $2.33 million hit against their 2016 salary cap, the “acceleration” accounting cost for the final two years of his signing-bonus proration.
He struggled to master the team’s unique “step-kick” technique of jamming receivers immediately after the snap at the line and then turning and running with them. Williams also repeatedly blew the same zone coverages on wide receivers and tight ends. Him making the same mistakes over and over prompted coach Pete Carroll and defensive coordinator Kris Richard to replace Williams with former undrafted safety and nickel defensive back DeShawn Shead for the final 1 1/2 quarters of the victory three games ago over San Francisco.
Williams’ struggles is a reason All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman has often shadowed top receivers this season — so opponents didn’t get to isolate the likes of Dez Bryant, A.J. Green, Torrey Smith and Antonio Brown on Williams.
“It was a short amount of time to try to catch up with all of the real specifics of our technique,” Carroll said. “We feel more comfortable with the guys that have been with us, so we made the move.”
Williams is the second starter to lose his job since the Seahawks (7-5) started this uneven season 2-4. Drew Nowak started the first five games at center, then got cut and re-signed to the practice squad.
Williams has seven accrued NFL seasons, so he’s ineligible for any practice squad. He is now a free agent available for any team.
Asked if the failed signing of Williams will make he and the Seahawks more wary of signing veteran cornerbacks established in techniques different from Seattle’s, Carroll said: “Possibly.”
Last weekend, Shead made his second consecutive start for Williams opposite Sherman in surging Seattle’s 38-7 win at Minnesota.
Shead’s sure tackling and better coverage is why Sunday’s game at Baltimore (4-8) will be his third career start at cornerback — and why it’s his job for the foreseeable future.
But Carroll left open the possibility nickel back Jeremy Lane could challenge Shead. Lane returned last month from a broken arm and reconstructive knee surgery to make his season debut.
Lane’s progress was another reason the Seahawks didn’t want or need Williams anymore.
Plus, Carroll said, “There’s always consideration for special teams and other things that go along with it.”
Shead is a standout on special teams. Williams didn’t play much on the kick teams.
The Seahawks now have an open spot on their active roster, and they need depth because of injuries on the defensive line, and at tight end and running back.
“Well, we’ll do something,” Carroll said
In early October it looked as if Williams would be Seattle’s starting cornerback through this season and beyond. He went face mask to face mask with Detroit’s Calvin Johnson in a strong coverage night in the close win over the Lions.
“I definitely don’t feel like (the Eagles) did me a favor by letting me go. But it may have been a favor,” Williams at the time, “because I feel like I am in a better place and in a better position. I’m a lot happier in this position and in this place, you know what I mean?
“I guess what was meant for bad and turned out good — for me.”
Then it turned bad again. The Lions game turned out to be an exception, not the start of sustained progress.
The step-kick requires a cornerback to line up a yard or two directly in front of the receiver and take an immediate step laterally with his outside foot. That’s to buy time; the defender waits almost in place as the receiver does all his shakes and jukes in an attempt to get past the jam.
The “kick” is throwing the foot back, away from the line of scrimmage, to turn and run with the receiver while staying in front of him.
Carroll was an All-Pacific Coast Athletic Conference defensive back at Pacific in 1971 and ’72, and a defensive backs coach starting in 1978 at Iowa State after that. He was at a Raiders-49ers joint training camp practice in the early 1980s and saw Oakland’s Hall of Famer Willie Brown doing the step-kick.
Carroll has been teaching it ever since. He’s unique in the NFL in doing so — as Williams found out.
“Putting the outside foot up and down, that was hard because in some places I’ve always put my left (inside) foot up. And then I’d press back, move a little bit, shuffle-slide,” Williams said in October. “It was a lot of inconsistencies.”
And it never really improved.
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle