Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Chris Williams is Back in Black... and Red?

After two years of trying to find a job in the NFL, 2011 Most Outstanding Rookie and 2012 Most Outstanding Special Teams Player Chris Williams has returned to the CFL... with the Ottawa RedBlacks.

The RedBlacks announced this morning that they have inked the former all-star to a contract that will see him join a receiving corps that has the potential to be the league's deadliest.

Williams' signing is the latest in a long line of big free-agent splashes Ottawa made this offseason. They signed offensive lineman SirVincent Rogers, receivers Ernest Jackson, Greg Ellingson and Brad Sinopoli, while also trading for receiver Maurice Price. Ottawa went into the offseason looking to upgrade a league-worst offense and they have done just that. The addition of Williams now puts them in a very enviable position.

But with big signings comes big expectations, and the addition of former New Mexico State Aggie now puts even more pressure on a team that went just 2-16 during their inaugural season. For all of these moves to have been worth it, the RedBlacks MUST make the playoffs in 2015. Anything less, and heads will roll. There will be no excuses acceptable enough for ownership if Ottawa fails to be playing a game following the conclusion of the regular season.

Also, while Ottawa has done a tremendous job of upgrading their talent pool, they have spent a lot of money on very little production. Aside from Williams and Rogers, the rest of their acquisitions are long on potential, but short on actual results. Ellingson was on his way to a rookie of the year award in 2013 until injuries slowed him down. He also dealt with injuries in 2014, and it was his inability to stay on the field that ultimately led to his departure from Hamilton. Jackson had a great end to the 2014 season, but does one month of production mean he is ready to be the next Geroy Simon, or is he the next Chris Brazzell? Sinopoli accomplished very little during his time in Calgary, so who is to say he is ready to take a giant leap forward? Price looked poised to become Calgary's go-to guy, but injuries saw him lose his spot and he became expendable. The RedBlacks could possess the best receiving unit in the entire, but it is April and it all looks like upside at this time of year.

Another thing that cannot be overlooked is Williams' absence from the game. While he saw some playing time in the NFL, he hasn't really played all that much since the final game of the Tiger-Cats' 2012 season. It will be 966 days between CFL contests, and few players return from such an absence and regain their former form. None spring to mind off the top of my head, so while Williams could still produce over 1,000 yards receiving and double digit touchdowns, he would be bucking a trend.

That is not to say that this was a bad signing. Far from it. If Williams gets back to his 2012 form, the league needs to watch out. This guy can be a game breaker, and that type of talent doesn't come around very often. Williams could be the final piece to get the RedBlacks into the playoffs in Year 2.

As for the Tiger-Cat aspect, I bore no ill will towards Williams during his acrimonious split a few years ago and I bear no ill will now that he is in Ottawa. It is not like the team doesn't have an excellent returner/receiver already on the roster, and couple that with a pair of Grey Cup appearances, and I think the Ti-Cats are doing just fine.

Don't get me wrong, I would loved to have seen Williams back, but this isn't fantasy football, and employing both Brandon Banks and Chris Williams was never going to happen. And frankly, if Williams wasn't coming back here and was going to sign with an East Division team, I am happy it is Ottawa. Could you imagine how bad it would be if he *gulp* signed with the Argos?

Williams comes back to the CFL at a time when the game will be opening up for receivers and returners, so this might be the right time for him to make his return north of the board. He was an all-star receiver as well as an award-winning returner, so nabbing him to become the focal point of the offense was a good move by Ottawa.

Gifted, exciting players playing in the CFL makes the league better, and there are few more gifted or exciting than Chris Williams.

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