The New Orleans Saints are going to find out whether one of the more decorated defensive tackles in the league has anything left to offer.
After hosting Kevin Williams last month on a free-agent visit, New Orleans on Friday inked the 34-year-old to a one-year deal and waived undrafted rookie tight end Harold Spears.
Williams spent last season in Seattle and finished the season with 30 tackles and three sacks over 445 regular-season snaps. He appeared in all 16 games and all three playoff games for the Seahawks, including the Super Bowl.
Before joining the Seahawks last year, Williams spent the 11 previous seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. He made the Pro Bowl six times, most recently in 2010, and was a first-team All-Pro in 2004 and from 2006-09. The Pro Football Hall of Fame named him a member of the second team All-2000s Team.
In New Orleans, Williams joins a group of defensive tackles that is short on experience and battled injuries throughout organized team activities. Looking at the depth chart through the prism of the nickel defense, the team has Akiem Hicks, Glenn Foster, John Jenkins, Brodrick Bunkley, Lawrence Virgil and rookies Tyeler Davison, Ashaad Mabry and Bobby Richardson at defensive tackle.
Bunkley, Foster and Virgil did not participate in Wednesday’s OTA session. Foster and Virgil worked out off to the side. Rookie defensive lineman Tavaris Barnes also worked out off to the side, but a source indicated to The Advocate that he should be ready in time for next week’s minicamp.
Williams is entering a position group that is prime for competition and, in some areas, could use upgrades. Hicks is likely the top defensive tackle on the depth chart, but after him, it’s wide open.
Jenkins (398 snaps), Foster (71), Jenkins (398), Bunkley (276) and Virgil (26) failed to make a major impact last season. In Bunkley’s case, he had 17 tackles before landing on injured reserve in November.
The Saints will be looking for players to step up and distinguish themselves during training camp, especially since they lost two defensive linemen this offseason. One of the team’s top reserves last season, Tyrunn Walker, signed with Detroit, and New Orleans lost additional depth by declining to re-sign Brandon Deaderick.
Perhaps this is where Williams fits in. He proved he has something left in the tank by starting the final 10 games at nose tackle for Seattle last season after Brandon Mebane suffered a hamstring injury.
With the Saints, Williams could be asked to play nose tackle in the base 3-4 defense and slide over to three-technique defensive tackle in nickel packages, which is where he played in Minnesota. His versatility to serve in both roles, and potentially at defensive end in the base defense, could give him a leg up if there is a close battle.
It’s also likely advantageous that coach Sean Payton previously identified defensive line as an area where a player from outside the system would have the best odds of coming in and winning a job.
“For our team specifically, the initial thoughts are areas where we felt like maybe we were thin just based on depth — the defensive line, for instance, with a couple of guys that were on our team a year ago and are no longer with us, Walker and Deaderick,” Payton said. “We drafted a player there (Davison). A lot of it (is) position-wise, though that is one thing that comes to mind.”
While the terms of Williams’ deal were not immediately disclosed, it’s likely that he signed a minimal deal. If it works, the Saints will have a veteran player who can provide depth on the defensive line. If it doesn’t, they should be able to walk away with little damage done.