Armando Salguero

The reason running back Damien Williams hasn’t signed his restricted free agent tender

Miami Dolphins running back Damien Williams (26) flexes his muscles after a 2016 season run against Pittsburgh.
Miami Dolphins running back Damien Williams (26) flexes his muscles after a 2016 season run against Pittsburgh. adiaz@miamiherald.com

Money. What else?

It is always about money.

The Miami Dolphins have started Phase II of their offseason conditioning program. That means coaches have joined players on the field and although there can be no one-on-one competition and no one is wearing helmets, there is individual instruction, and some drills, and team building going on.

Williams is not part of the voluntary program so far because he hasn’t signed his restricted free agent tender with the team. And why hasn’t he?

Money.

Damien Williams wants more money. Simple as that.

With the 2017 NFL season quickly approaching, here are some of the biggest free agent signings thus far.

Per a league source familiar with Williams’s thinking, the running back was initially hoping to garner enough interest in restricted free agency that someone might offer him a contract the Dolphins would either have to match or let him go. Although he visited the New England Patriots, that team instead signed former Dolphins and Buffalo Bills running back Mike Gillislee to a two-year, $6.4 million deal.

Williams would love that kind of deal.

Except the Patriots picked Gillislee over him. And the period during which players can sign restricted free agency deals with other teams has passed. So it’s the Dolphins or nothing for Williams.

That has left Williams, 25, asking the Dolphins for a raise. More accurately, Williams is asking the Dolphins for a bigger raise than the team has already agreed to give him.

The Dolphins, you see, offered Williams an original-round tender to keep his rights. In terms of money that means the team offered to pay the backup running back $1.8 million this season -- a significant raise from the $600,000 Williams made last season.

But Williams, considering his 2016 contributions which included six touchdowns, and multiple explosive plays, believes he should get more. So he has not signed the $1.8 million tender. And he is one of only a couple of players who has not participated in the voluntary program.

He is trying to make a statement.

He wants a better deal.

And that’s not happening.

“So we have his rights,” said Dolphins executive vice president for football operations Mike Tannenbaum. “He hasn’t signed his tender. He is a restricted free agent and our tender is still out there.”

That sums up the situation well. Williams is boxed in. He has very little leverage other than to sign with the Dolphins and get $1.8. If he doesn’t sign, he cannot play anywhere else in the NFL. If he doesn’t sign, he gets ...nothing.

What’s he thinking?

“I mean, for us, we worry about the players that are here,” Tannenbaum continued. “And again, just to keep it in context, we are in the voluntary part of the offseason program. We are thrilled with the people that are here, the players that are getting coached. When Damien comes, that is obviously something you would have to ask him.”

Williams is thinking that he is valuable beyond $1.8 million for one year. He sees Gillislee’s deal and would love something similar. He also understands he is a favorite of some coaches who love the tone he sets in the locker room, meeting room, and on the field. Coaches also appreciate that he is a core special teams player and did have highlight plays in 2016.

Some of those highlight plays:

A 29-yard reception against Seattle.

A 10-yard TD catch against Seattle.

A 58-yard catch against Cleveland.

A 12-yard go-ahead TD against Pittsburgh.

A 23-yard run against the New York Jets in November.

A 44-yard reception on third-and-3 against Arizona.

The problem for Williams is that despite his playmaking, the Dolphins are looking to Kenyan Drake, a rookie a year ago, to be more involved on third down this year and have his role expanded. The team also believes it is already giving Williams a hefty raise that is, in fact, three times more than what he made in 2016.

And the biggest problem: The team is not likely going to reward Williams by giving him extra money after he’s effectively held out.

The Dolphins didn’t reward Reshad Jones after he sat out much of the offseason in 2016. He had to wait until 2017 to get an extension.

The Dolphins told Jarvis Landry they wanted to see him report for offseason conditioning and participate and “be a leader” before rewarding him with a contract extension, which is still being negotiated.

The team is unlikely to take a different course for Williams when it didn’t do so for more valuable players such as Jones and Landry.

Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

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