Football is a game of risk for Cary Williams. The Ravens starting cornerback relies on his instincts on the field for when to gamble and when to play it safe
Williams is applying that approach to how he conducts his business off the field, declining the Ravens' offer of a three-year contract extension. The contract proposal was worth roughly $15 million, according to league sources.
Williams is betting on himself by deciding to play out the final year of his contract with no talks currently being held. He'll be an unrestricted free agent after this season.
"My philosophy on doing that was just having confidence in myself," Williams said. "I know myself, I know my ability. I know my work ethic. At the end of the day, the offer, I felt like I could always make that. I felt it wasn't good enough and my agent said it wasn't good enough. I love playing for the Ravens. I would love to be here, but right now we're just in the negotiation stage.
"For me to say the money ain't good, that wasn't the case. It's good money, but my job is to make the most money I possibly can for my family. I'm thinking about my daughter and any future children I want to have. I want some kind of security, and the deal we had wasn't like that."
Williams emerged as a starter for the first time last season, recording a career-high 77 tackles and 18 pass deflections with two forced fumbles.
Although Williams underwent surgery during the offseason to repair a torn labrum in his right hip, the Ravens attempted to lock him up on a long-term basis.
Instead, though, Williams signed his one-year, $1.927 million restricted free agent tender.
"Cary was fired up about his value and what he's worth after a successful year," said Marc Lillibridge, Williams' agent. "We feel like if he can play as good or better than last season and lead the Ravens to a Super Bowl, then he'll get his just due. I completely agree with that. You roll the dice on yourself your entire life.
"Cary loves challenges and people that doubt him. He thrives on proving people wrong. Cary continues to amaze people with his determination. This is simply another challenge he will take on, and ultimately conquer."
A lightly recruited prospect who endured a rough childhood growing up in Miami, Williams began his college career at Fordham before transferring to Washburn, a Division II school in Topeka, Kan.
At Washburn, he intercepted 11 passes and registered 94 tackles in two seasons. Only one NFL scout attended the Washburn Pro Day, so Williams auditioned for a larger audience of NFL personnel at the University of Kansas, where NFL teams first became aware of the athletic 6-foot-1, 190-pounder.
"I've dealt with so much and so many things that people don't understand," Williams said. "I've been to many different places. It's been a great journey for me."
Williams displayed enough talent to be drafted in the seventh round by the Tennessee Titans, and was signed by the Ravens in 2009 off the Titans' practice squad.
However, his career didn't take off until last year when defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano promoted him to a starter. The Ravens finished third overall in total defense, fourth against the pass.
"What's special about Cary to me is where he comes from," free safety Ed Reed said. "Cary has been grinding for a couple years now to pull himself out of a hole. He's exceeded all expectations, including his own. For him to be where he's at right now, he's put himself in a great position. He can be a dominating corner in this league."
After an offseason spent rehabilitating his hip, Williams has been picked on during the first two preseason games.
He allowed a touchdown pass to Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones on a perfectly thrown Matt Ryan spiral, and he surrendered a 57-yard reception to Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson.
"Those guys are great players, and they're on scholarship, too," Williams said. "I can't say I would have locked them down, but during the season it's a different story where we would have had a game plan. I'll bounce back from this injury. You'll see that this week."
Williams indicated that his surgically repaired right hip is 100 percent, but his left hip is bothering him due to overcompensating for the injury.
"I'm fine on the right side, but the left side is where the training staff said it's fatigue," Williams said. "Time off would help me, but I haven't asked for a day off."
Although Williams turned down the Ravens' contract offer, that doesn't necessarily mean he's engaged in an exit strategy.
Ideally, Williams would like to remain with the Ravens depending on the level of contract talks.
Although Williams is unlikely to command anywhere near the top end of the cornerback scale like Nnamdi Asomugha ($12 million annual average), Darrelle Revis ($11.5 million) or even teammate Lardarius Webb ($8.33 million), there's a middle ground for starting cornerbacks above a $5 million average.
That includes the San Francisco 49ers' Carlos Rogers ($7.32 million average), Pittsburgh Steelers' Ike Taylor ($7 million), Minnesota Vikings' Antoine Winfield ($6.9 million), Chicago Bears' Charles Tillman ($6.1 million), Kansas City Chiefs' Stanford Routt ($6 million), San Diego Chargers' Quentin Jammer ($5.49 million), Cleveland Browns' Dimitri Patterson ($5.3 million) and Miami Dolphins' Richard Marshall ($5.3 million).
"I don't take anything for granted," said Williams, the father of a 2-year-old daughter named Amari. "It's an honor and a privilege to be in the NFL, but I know that 17 or 18 years from now my daughter is going to be in college and it's going to be a bunch of money for tuition."