Demario Davis returned to the Jets last season and became a vital piece of the defense. The inside linebacker led the Jets with 135 tackles, nine tackles for loss and five sacks. There was a belief Davis wouldn’t leave the Jets in free agency.
But what he wanted financially and what the team was willing to give him were two different things.
Enter Avery Williamson.
The Jets signed Williamson to a three-year contract with $16 million guaranteed. Williamson will get his 2018 and 2019 base salaries fully guaranteed totaling $10 million. And Williamson, 26, isn’t worried about replacing Davis at inside linebacker because, as he said Tuesday in a conference call, he’s not going to be somebody he’s not.
“You can’t really compare yourself to another guy,” Williamson said. “I feel like, in a sense, of trying to fill somebody’s shoes because he had his style of play and I have my style of play. Both solid players, we have our own traits and our own things we like to do on the field. I don’t want to pressure myself and try to be like him and I feel like he would say the same thing if he was replacing me. You just got to go in there and play my style, and I feel like that’s going to get the job done.”
Davis, meanwhile, signed a three-year deal with the Saints with $16 million in guarantees.
Williamson, a fifth-round pick of the Titans in 2014, was second on Tennessee last season with 92 tackles. He also had three sacks and four tackles for loss. Williamson is a strong run defender, but much like Davis there were questions about his coverage skills.
In the pass-happy NFL, covering tight ends and running backs as an inside linebacker is mandatory. The Jets, for as much praise as they heaped on Davis, weren’t totally happy with his coverage skills or his ability to make adjustments as the signal caller.
This is where Williamson must prove himself as a three-down linebacker.
“I feel like I’m a three-down linebacker,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s up to the coaches, how they feel and how they want to use me. Of course, I played three downs my first three years playing with the Titans, so of course I’m going to say yes. I definitely feel like I’ve gotten better with my coverage skills. It shows on the film from last year.”
Williams said four to five teams were serious about signing him, but the Jets’ contract offer and the opportunity to play with more freedom on defense were keys to his decision.
“I’m excited about them letting me play my game and let me do my thing out there and play free,” Williamson said. “When I got the contract stuff out of the way, now I can really play and focus on my game. I also liked the 3-4 [defense], the [defensive linemen] are a one-gap scheme and it gives me an opportunity to shoot gaps and play free and play fast, and that’s what I want to do.”