Could the Green Bay Packers have an odd man out in their backfield this season?
ESPN’s Rob Demovsky certainly isn’t ruling out the possibility when it comes to Packers running back Jamaal Williams, as he listed the 2016 fourth-round pick as the team’s on-the-bubble veteran coming into 2020 training camp later this month.
Williams spent the 2019 season as the Packers’ No. 2 rusher behind star Aaron Jones, gaining 713 yards from scrimmage and scoring six touchdowns — five of which were receptions — but the unexpected addition of second-round pick AJ Dillon complicates the picture for 2020. As Demovsky notes, Williams could end up costing too much to be the No. 3 back if he is pushed behind Jones and Dillon on the depth chart this season.
Here is what Demovsky wrote for ESPN:
Although coach Matt LaFleur has said he’d like to have at least three backs at his disposal, Williams might not be worth his $2.133 million salary if he’s the No. 3 back behind Aaron Jones and second-round pick AJ Dillon. Perhaps the Packers could find a trading partner for Williams during training camp, but if not — and if they feel comfortable kick return specialist Tyler Ervin could be the No. 3 back — then they could move on from Williams one way or another before the season starts.
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Could Williams Lose his Job in 2020 Training Camp?
Williams finds himself in an unenviable position heading into his fourth NFL season, even with head coach Matt LaFleur intending to use three running backs in his rotation this season.
Jones has firmly seized his place atop the depth chart after rushing for more than 1,000 yards and scoring 23 touchdowns across 18 games last season, while the rookie Dillon is the likely candidate to step into the No. 2 role behind him given the Packers’ early-round investment. That wouldn’t necessarily leave Williams in the No. 3 spot, though.
Jamaal Williams is a well-rounded back that can do it all:
🔘At least 200 receiving yards all 3 seasons.
🔘At least 460 rushing yards all 3 seasons.
🔘PFF pass-blocking grade of 85.6 in 2019 was 6th among all RBs.
— Paul Bretl (@Paul_Bretl) July 11, 2020
While Williams is the only rusher aside from Jones with substantial experience in the offensive system, the 25-year-old running back also saw his price tag climb this offseason. Both Jones and Williams hit their proven performance escalators during the 2019 season, raising each of their fourth-year league minimum salaries from $735,000 to $2.133 million. Williams’ contract actually carries the greater cap hit between the two at $2.247 million for the 2020 season.
As Demovsky noted, the Packers have several more affordable options available if they decide Williams costs too much for a No. 3 guy. There are four other running backs and two fullbacks currently on the team’s 90-man offseason roster, including return specialist Tyler Ervin — signed through 2020 and owed just $910,000 — and former sixth-round pick Dexter Williams. None can touch Williams’ experience, but how much is really needed for a third-string rusher?
One saving grace for Williams is the reduction of offseason and training camp workouts as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. If the cost isn’t an issue for the Packers, Williams’ experience in the system could win out with fewer opportunities for other backs, as the coaching staff has already seen him produce an effective season and could desire the security heading into an unprecedented year.
Packers rookies are set to report to training camp next week on July 21 with veterans scheduled to follow on July 28, but the manner in which the upcoming season will proceed is still uncertain with the NFL and NFLPA still trying to reach an agreement on compensation and safety guidelines for players.