With training camp underway, the New England Patriots currently have 78 players officially under contract. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns on September 5 and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer — just like we did the last three years as well — we will continue to take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots keep their dynasty alive in Year One after Tom Brady.
Today, the series continues with one of the recent additions to New England’s roster.
Name: Xavier Williams
Position: Defensive tackle
Jersey number: 98
Size: 6-foot-2, 310 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2020 (2021 UFA)
What is his experience? Despite a solid five-year career at Northern Iowa, Williams did not hear his name called during the NFL’s 2015 draft. Three days after the event, however, he signed a rookie deal with the Arizona Cardinals and eventually went on to make the team’s opening day roster. Over the next three seasons, Williams appeared in 23 games for the Cardinals while serving primarily as a rotational defensive tackle. Despite a steady increase in playing time, however, the team allowed him to leave in 2018.
After having placed the original-round restricted free agency tender on him, the Kansas City Chiefs signed Williams to an offer sheet. Arizona had five days to match, but declined despite receiving no compensation for the departee. Williams had a solid first season with the Chiefs while playing in all 16 games for the first time in his career, but struggled with injury and inconsistency in Year Two. Nevertheless, he earned a Super Bowl ring with Kansas City to cap his 2019 season.
What did his 2019 season look like? Coming off the best season of his career, Williams’ contract essentially secured him a spot on the Chiefs’ roster for the 2019 season as well. He indeed made the team and saw some regular action in his usual role as a rotational defensive tackle to open the season: over the first four games of the year, Williams was on the field for 108 of a possible 278 defensive snaps (38.8%). In Week 5, however, he suffered a high-ankle sprain and had to leave the game after 10 snaps.
The injury eventually forced the Chiefs to move the fifth-year man to their injured reserve list in early October. Two months later, Williams was back on the practice fields: Kansas City designated him as one of its two IR-return players, allowing him to re-join the active roster in late December. While he was inactive for the regular season finale, he returned to the lineup for the Chiefs’ playoff opener against the Houston Texans two weeks later and also saw action during the AFC Championship Game versus the Tennessee Titans.
Williams, who was declared inactive for Super Bowl 54, played 30 of a possible 204 defensive snaps during the playoffs (14.7%) and registered two quarterback hurries after already notching three during the regular season. He also had two tackles in the running game during the postseason after seven over his first five games of the year. All in all, though, his season did have its ups and downs: Williams missed significant time due to injury and was at times inconsistent, but also won his first championship.
What is his projected role? Ever since arriving in the NFL as an undrafted free agent, Williams has played along the interior of the defensive line — a role he is expected to also be given in New England. While the team is set at the top of its depth chart with Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler, Beau Allen missing the first week of full-speed training camp practices could create an opportunity for Williams to carve out regular playing time as a big-bodied rotational option that has value on early downs and in select late-down situations.
What is his special teams value? While he may not have been a prominent special teams presence for the Cardinals and Chiefs, Williams does bring some experience in the kicking game to the table: he was used on field goal and extra point blocking units by both his former teams, and also has a handful of snaps on the Cardinals’ place kicking squads on his résumé. The Patriots, meanwhile, will likely use him to generate an up-field push on the two blocking teams.
Does he have positional versatility? Williams’ body type — he is listed at 6-foot-2, 310 pounds — makes him best suited to line up on the inside of the defensive line. That said, he has shown some flexibility whether it came to aligning as a nose or as a 1- or 3-technique tackle. The 28-year-old should not be expected to be moved all over the formation or register impressive stats against the pass or the run, but he is a solid two-gap defender.
What is his salary cap situation? The details of Williams’ contract with the Patriots have not been reported just yet, but the expectation is that his one-year pact will be near the veteran minimum. As a sixth-year player, this means that he would receive a non-guaranteed salary of $910,000 — a number that would count against New England’s salary cap despite the NFL’s top-51 rule. The team’s cap would therefore decrease by $150,000 as he would push another player with a lower salary off the list.
What is his roster outlook? Adding Williams to the equation gives the Patriots more personnel flexibility up front with Beau Allen not yet having appeared during the practices open to the media. That being said, he is still not guaranteed a spot on the 53-man team come roster cutdown day: if Allen returns, he is projected to at best be number four at the position behind him and the aforementioned Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler. Williams will therefore have to compete against Byron Cowart, Nick Thurman and Bill Murray for practice reps and a chance at making the roster.