I remember the day well. It was the first day of training camp in 2007 for the Green Bay Packers. As I stood in front of the Don Hutson Center watching the team practice on Clark Hinkle Field, one player in the secondary really stood out to me.
He was a relatively obscure player by the name of Tramon Williams. The unknown cornerback covered receivers like Donald Driver and Greg Jennings like a glove as Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers threw passes to them. I kept thinking to myself, who is that guy?
The secondary of the Packers had some very talented players in 2007. Charles Woodson led the way, with Al Harris and Nick Collins not far behind. But it was Williams who stood out for me that day.
At that point in time, Williams was just trying to make the roster of the Packers for the first time. In 2006, Williams had been undrafted out of Louisiana Tech and was signed by the Houston Texans. After he was released by the Texans, the Packers signed Williams to their practice squad where he remained throughout the 2006 season.
But in 2007, it wasn’t just my eyes which were opened. The coaching staff of the Packers also liked what they saw and Williams made the team. He played in all 16 games that season, had 17 tackles and started one game. He also picked off a pass.
In 2008, Williams really started to make an impact, as he made nine starts, made 57 tackles, picked off five passes and forced two fumbles. In 2009, Williams started 10 games, had 55 tackles, picked off four more passes, plus had a sack.
It was in 2010 in which Williams became a full-time starter and also had a breakout year. No. 38 had 57 tackles, six picks, one forced fumble and three fumble recoveries. That performance led to Williams being named to the Pro Bowl.
But as good as the 2010 season was for Williams, he was extra special in the 2010 postseason.
In the Wild Card game versus the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field, Williams made the game-winning interception with less than a minute to go in the game, as the Packers hung on to beat the Eagles 21-16.
Six days later in a Divisional Playoff game against the No. 1 seeded Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome, Williams picked off two more passes, including one he returned for a touchdown for 70 yards just before halftime. That pick basically broke the back of the Dirty Birds in the game, as the Green Bay upset Atlanta 48-21.
After beating the Chicago Bears 21-14 in the NFC title game at Soldier Field, the Packers faced the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV.
Williams and the Green Bay secondary were put in a very difficult situation, as Woodson (broken collarbone) was unable to play in the second half of the game, plus rookie cornerback Sam Shields (shoulder) also missed most of the second half.
But somehow the secondary held together on the last drive of the Steelers (with less than two minutes remaining in the game), as the Packers had a 31-25 lead. On fourth down, it was none other than Williams who broke up a pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Mike Wallace to secure the victory which allowed the Packers to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Talk about apropos.
In 2011, Williams suffered a shoulder injury early in the season and missed a game, but still played through the lingering injury the rest of the year.
That was the only time Williams missed a game between 2010 through 2014. In those five years. Williams had 18 picks for 229 yards and one touchdown. He also averaged 68 tackles per season, had two forced fumbles, recovered seven fumbles and had 3.5 sacks.
Unfortunately, just like with Favre, many in Packer Nation still remember the last play Williams was involved in during a NFC title game. Favre threw an interception in the 2007 NFC title game which led to a game-winning field goal which put the New York Giants in the Super Bowl, while Williams was beaten on a game-winning touchdown pass in overtime against the Seattle Seahawks in the 2014 NFL title game.
Favre was traded to the New York Jets in 2008 and then played with the Minnesota Vikings for two years after that, but he never returned to play for the Packers again.
Williams left via free agency in 2015 to play with the Cleveland Browns.
But unlike Favre, Williams is getting an opportunity to come back after spending two years (2015-2016) with the Browns (including one under new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine when he was head coach there) and last season with the Arizona Cardinals.
Bringing back Williams was made official on Friday when general manager Brian Gutekunst announced the signing of Williams.
I had an inkling that the Packers might sign Williams, similar to my thoughts as to why Muhammad Wilkerson would be a good addition to the team. In both cases, it was having the opportunity to play again in the defensive system of Pettine.
In a recent story, I wrote how the Packers did in the legal tampering period of free agency. I added this conjecture in the piece:
In terms of what the Packers might possibly do soon again in free agency now that it’s official, my guess is that they will try and bring in a veteran cornerback who knows how to play in the Pettine system and who also knows all about being a Packer.
That cornerback is Tramon Williams. Yes, I know Williams is 35 now, but he is still playing good football in the NFL and would be a solid addition as a stop-gap at cornerback.
Also, in my latest mock draft, published three days ago, I wrote this:
The Packers also need to add a veteran to their young cornerback corp, which also has fourth-year CB Quinten Rollins, who is coming off an Achilles injury. Adding Tramon Williams via free agency would definitely help, as although he is 35, he is still playing well in the secondary (like he did with Arizona last season), plus he has played in the Pettine defensive system in Cleveland.
Well, the Packers did indeed sign Williams and he will definitely help the other players in the young secondary of the Packers. Not only with his knowledge, but also with his play.
Besides Rollins, the Packers also have last year’s second-round pick Kevin King, plus undrafted free agents Josh Hawkins, Lenzy Pipkins, Donatello Brown and Herb Waters.
A former teammate of Williams in Green Bay, veteran Davon House, who returned to play with the Packers last season after spending two years with the Jacksonville Jaguars, remains on the free agent market.
Williams will also aid the rookie cornerbacks who the Packers will select in the 2018 NFL draft. I see the Packers picking at least two cornerbacks in the upcoming draft, plus most likely a safety due to the departure of Morgan Burnett in free agency.
Bottom line, Williams will be able to provide the veteran leadership in the secondary that the Packers were desperately looking for. Yes, Williams is 35, but he is also still playing good football, as evidenced by his play in the talented Arizona secondary last season, when he started nine games and had two interceptions and 13 pass breakups.