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Mike Preston: Ravens can’t afford to lose Brandon Williams, not yet | COMMENTARY

As a nose tackle, Brandon Williams’ top priority is to gain leverage and not get pushed around, so it will be interesting to see how he handles new negotiations with the Ravens.

On one hand, it appears the Ravens have an upper hand because they could simply cut Williams, 32, and save $7.5 million against the salary cap, even though $6.9 million would count in dead money.

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But on the other hand, they can’t win without him because he is almost as vital to the offense as he is to their defense, which is why general manager Eric DeCosta recently said he expects Williams to return for the 2021 season.

“He’s a valued player on the team; it’s hard to find guys like him. He fits our mentality,” DeCosta said. “As a nose tackle, these guys can play for a long time. He plays hard. He plays [well]. He’s one of us. He’s a Raven through and through. So, yes — I expect him to be on the team.”

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It makes sense for both parties to reach an agreement on a restructured deal. At the start of the upcoming season, Williams will be in the fifth year of a $52.5 million contract he signed in 2017 that will count $14.4 million against the salary cap.

As usual, those types of contracts are back-loaded because neither the player nor the team expected to see that type of payday, but it helped with the salary cap. But now that makes no sense for the Ravens to pay Williams that type of money, especially for a player who is in on less than 50% of the defensive snaps because he can’t get consistent quarterback pressure.

But the Ravens struggle to win without Williams.

Williams doesn’t get much of a pass rush, but he is still one of the better run stoppers in the NFL. Ideally, the Ravens want to control the pace of every game by running the football and stopping the run.

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If they can’t stop the run, then that keeps quarterback Lamar Jackson off the field. And if the Ravens fall behind, they have problems catching up.

Like most nose guards, Williams’ integral role is buried among the mass of humanity on the line of scrimmage on Sunday afternoons.

He missed nearly four games last season, three from injury and one because he was on the COVID-19 list. In those games against New England, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Tennessee, the Ravens allowed 608 yards on 111 carries for a 5.47 yards-per-carry average. In their 12 other games, they allowed 271 carries for 1,132 yards (4.17 average).

In 2019, Williams missed just one game because of injury. (He also sat out the finale vs. Pittsburgh for rest). The Ravens allowed 29 carries for 193 yards (6.7 per carry) vs. Cleveland in that home loss.

Is Williams a one-man defense? No, but he is a difference-maker.

Even though rookie middle linebacker Patrick Queen led the Ravens in tackles last season, he isn’t a thumper or the shock-and-shed type. He is a runner and has to be protected, and Williams does that well by often occupying two blockers.

The Ravens secondary was generally rated as the top position on the team, but the defensive line wasn’t far behind with ends Calais Campbell, Derek Wolfe and Williams.

Williams brings energy and personality. He is one of the most well-liked players on the team. Unlike outside linebacker Matthew Judon, who tried to imitate former Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, Williams can change the mood or tempo of practice with his loud voice or dance moves.

He has been consistent during his eight years in Baltimore, starting 101 of 110 career games. He may have played in only 50% of the defensive snaps in 2018 compared to 54% in 2019 and 33% in 2020, but the Ravens aren’t as successful without him.

In the end, they will probably work out an agreement. Williams likes being a Raven and the Ravens know his value to the team, especially because possible second-year replacements such as Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington aren’t ready yet.

It looks like Williams has some good leverage again, even as he begins the twilight of his career.

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