Salary history and contract status:Williams is in the final year of his 4-year, $2.9 million dollar rookie contract that guaranteed $619,000. In 2016, he counts $1.6M base salary in 2016 and a $1.8M cap hit. He will become an unrestricted free agent after the 2016 season.
2013 draft profile from Ourlads.com: 6'2/208/4.51 ... Three-year starter who is a fifth year senior. Has played in 51 games in his career. Played in a spread zone based offense that distributes the ball to a variety of receivers and backs. Concentration and courage to catch over the middle. Soft hands. Holds the ball on contact. Good sized receiver who will compete for the ball in the air. Two of his biggest catches in 2011 were vertical '9' routes catching the ball for touchdowns versus Texas and Oklahoma. He can beat press man coverage off the line with his quick feet. Good contact balance to keep his feet after hit and get yards after catch. Uses a stiff arm to ward off low tacklers. Good cutting ability in space. He has also made the layout diving catches. An NFL caliber productive athlete who built on his strong junior year averaging over 18 yards per catch. A three level receiver who can go vertical and make the tough over the shoulder catch. Can separate with strength and a quick burst. An outside pass catcher who is athletic after catch. Ability to break tackles and split defenders. Eventual starter with developmental time. Caught 202 passes in his career. 2012 stats: 97-1832, 18.9 ypr, 12 TD. Second/Third Round.
Pre-2015: Williams began his career in Dallas as the "bonus pick" the Cowboys received for trading back in the draft with San Francisco. They received the 31st and 74th picks to trade their 18th selection in 2013 with the 49ers and walked away with Travis Frederick and Williams. Most draft historians give that a pretty excellent value grade, but also note that Keenan Allen was taken 2 picks later (#76) by the Chargers. Williams jumped right into the action in 2013 when Miles Austin was playing his last season across from Dez Bryant. His first massive impact was the shootout against the Broncos in early October when he caught all 4 passes thrown to him for 151 yards and a touchdown. He has definitely helped cement the "Baylor WR" stereotypes of having a very limited route tree, but electric results when the team connects on one of those bread and butter routes. In 2014, with a healthy Dez Bryant on the field demanding safety support, Williams ran more "go" routes than anyone in the football. In fact, over 40% of his pass plays are some variation of the simple 9 route. Most of the rest have been slants and digs, and on several occasions -- including the 2014 Wildcard game against Detroit -- Williams has shown that if you allow a slant, he can take it 70-80 yards in a blink of an eye. As a 2nd WR, he would at least be considered league average. He has limited productivity, but with Bryant and Jason Witten on the field and the team running the ball over half the time, it all seems by design. He plays the "Alvin Harper" role well.
2015: Last season, the conversation changed. The events on the field required Williams to try to fill the role left by Bryant when Dez missed a number of games in September and October. In fairness to Williams, the QB play was substandard for most of the year and there were several verifiable moments where he was open and Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassel either missed seeing him completely or missed the throw. During the Weeden stretch of starts (Games 3-5) where the backup QB seemed determined to never throw the ball down the field and risk a turnover, the team attempted 18 passes to Williams of assorted lengths and Weeden connected on 5 for 79 yards. That 4.4 yards per attempt is enough to make an offense cry and shows why revisionist history cannot save the Weeden run in Dallas. It was about RB completions on repeated check downs and punt. The production returned with Cassel (although so did a number of interceptions in New York) and then upon Dez Bryant's return, some of the production returned, too. Williams did not drop many passes, but the team could not get him the ball often enough. He definitely had some highlight moments to show his improvement on physical plays that required aerial wins. But in total, he was disappointing as a #1 WR. In fairness, he really never got to play much in that role with competent QB play to show whether it was him, defenses keying on his strengths with extra coverage since Dez was gone, the QB, or the ultra conservative game plans that the team tried to win with. He ended the year with a career-high day against the Redskins as he caught 8 passes in 9 attempts for 173 yards -- which certainly helped his season stat line improve cosmetically. But, to be fair, if anyone deserved a final week of numbers to prop up a disappointing season, given what Williams had to work with in 2015, perhaps it was him.
2016 analysis: It is vital that Williams has a big year, if for no other reason to ensure he has a 2nd contract offer from the Cowboys. He has a lot in his favor, including some very high-end moments where he demonstrates his value, the fact he does look like an effective book-end (albeit with limitations) for an offense centered around running the ball and Dez Bryant, and he has played in 48 of the 48 games in his career. That said, almost without fail, there seems to be some uncertainty about whether the Cowboys should lock up the soon-to-be-27-year-old or to draft his replacement. Given that the best WR behind Williams for that spot is either Devin Street or Brice Butler, the team certainly doesn't have anybody that looks like an 80- snap guy ready to replace him.
Looking at comparable players from the 2011 and 2012 draft classes, the results are all over the board for 2nd contract offers. Mohamed Sanu, who was significantly less productive than Williams, pocketed a 5yr/$32.5M deal ($14M Guaranteed) from Atlanta this spring. The same is true for Travis Benjamin, who signed a 4yr/$24M ($13M Guaranteed) with San Diego. Less production, great money. On the other hand, the Giants received very similar numbers from Rueben Randle -- despite a lesser role for most of his time there -- and then did not offer him anything at the end of his contract and the player who just turned 25 signed in Philadelphia for next to nothing 1yr/$1.5M (no guarantee). There is more to a player than just stats, but as you can see, those offers are all over the board.
He is a complicated study. He is always on the field, yet is a guy who averages about 45 yards a game in his career and has never been close to 1,000 yards. At the same time, he has made some huge catches at huge moments and gets in the end zone which is a rather important attribute. Bottom line, the Cowboys get Williams for 2016 at a very cheap price. But, that will change in 2017. Either they decide to pay him between $6-$7M per season to keep him or they draft his replacement in 2017's draft and start all over again. Since I don't anticipate any sort of summer/training camp extension, I assume Williams' job in 2016 will determine their decision.