The new guy needed little introduction.
His name already carries plenty of weight, particularly in a defensive line room full of young players who grew up watching him dominate the interior of the NFC North for so many years.
But Kevin Williams can’t help but wish, at least a little, that the Saints’ young defensive linemen didn’t have so many memories of him involving video games.
“The stories I got made me feel so old,” he said. “ ‘We used to play with you in Madden!’ and all that. I didn’t really have to do much introducing; the guys already knew who I was.”
Williams, all 6-foot-5 and 311 pounds of him, is very much in the flesh now. He stepped right into the Saints’ No. 1 defense when New Orleans opened its mandatory minicamp Tuesday, only three days after the team announced his signing.
The departures of Tyrunn Walker and Brandon Deaderick in the offseason left the Saints thin on experience on the interior of the defensive line. With that in mind, New Orleans targeted Williams in free agency, bringing the veteran in for a visit in May, shortly before the start of rookie minicamp. Williams drew interest from several teams, but the veteran defensive tackle said only two teams put the full-court press on him: Seattle and New Orleans.
“He was the one guy, specifically, that we brought in,” coach Sean Payton said. “He’s versatile, he can play the 3-(technique). ... And then obviously, he’s played inside in the sub-packages, but I thought he did a good job for (Seattle). He was available, he provides real good leadership and he played in a real good defense.”
What Williams saw in the Saints was a contender. At this point in his career, Williams wants to play for a team that can give him a chance at the Super Bowl — the way Seattle did last season — and he left his visit with New Orleans convinced that the combination of Drew Brees and a retooled defense meant the Saints still were a contender despite a disappointing finish to 2014.
Williams waited more than a month to sign — he jokingly said he was waiting for the start of minicamp, then clarified that he didn’t want to make a rash decision — before joining New Orleans, a team he can see returning to the ranks of contender.
“It’s a chance to win,” Williams said. “I always talk about, you play pretty good defense and you have a good quarterback, so those are always two good things that give you a chance to win in this league. You look up, you can win 10 games before you know it.”
The five-time All-Pro, a fixture in the Minnesota Vikings defense for more than a decade, is now 34 and nearing the end of his highly decorated career. But he doesn’t think he needs to call it a career yet. After starting eight games for the Seahawks during their run to the Super Bowl last season, Williams is starting to think he might have a little more left in the tank than even he realized.
“A couple of years ago, I said I wanted to try at least two more years,” he said. “We’re going to see how this year goes. Hopefully, unscathed, no problems, and who knows, might keep going. But I’ll take it year by year right now.”
New Orleans is hoping Williams can replicate the production that led to 30 tackles and three sacks with the Seahawks last season.
A penetrator throughout his career, Williams likely will see most of his time when New Orleans goes to a four-man front, and he can line up on the shoulder of the center or guard, creating problems with his quickness. In the nickel or dime, the man with 63 career sacks can still provide an interior pass rush, as evidenced by 6.5 sacks over the past two seasons. None of the Saints’ full-time interior rushers had more than Walker’s 2.5 sacks last season.
All the Saints have to do is monitor how many snaps Williams takes. At 34, he knows he doesn’t quite have the same staying power that made him such an every-down force for so many years in Minnesota.
“When you’ve started 12 years in the league, it takes a toll on you,” he said. “I probably can’t do 60 plays at a maximum effort, but I think I can still do 40, 45 real high-level plays and make things happen.”
Williams also adds a respected veteran voice to a locker room that has been looking for leaders all offseason. Affable and easygoing, Williams instantly commands respect.
No matter if his younger teammates know his Minnesota game film or know him simply from Madden; Williams’ reputation commands instant respect.
“It’s a good thing to add somebody who’s got experience and who knows how to win,” third-year defensive tackle John Jenkins said. “Especially for a guy like me, because it gives me an opportunity to learn. When you’re in the league that long at this position, you’re obviously doing something right.”
New Orleans needs Williams to keep doing it right for at least one more go-round.