Too much tenacity may get Willams in trouble
The Eagles knew what they were getting when they signed Cary Williams, so Thursday's fight with Riley Cooper shouldn't have come as much of a surprise, even if it was racially motivated.
Williams is a live wire. The cornerback uses his tenacity to gain any possible edge on the football field. It doesn't matter whether the opponent is the Redskins in the season opener, the Patriots in a friendly scrimmage, or a teammate in practice.
That's the kind of physicality the Eagles had hoped Williams would bring to a defense that's been sorely lacking in tough guys.
But they also knew that with the tenacity came a player who sometimes lacked the necessary discipline to avoid penalties, possible expulsion, and - more important - the grinding of teammates.
The Eagles haven't yet faced a crossroads with Williams, but his behavior is causing concern within the organization, and Chip Kelly has yet to even coach his first NFL game. To put it simply, if Williams doesn't perform starting Monday night in Washington, there won't be a season two in the three-year contract the 28-year-old signed in March.
There might not even be a full season if Williams continues to lose his temper with teammates. Put aside for a moment the racial slur that both Cooper and Williams used in moments of anger, and Williams' response to Cooper's initiating the scuffle was irrational.
During a one-on-one drill, Williams was aggressive with Cooper and knocked a pass to the ground. When the receiver bounced up off the ground and came right at the corner, it was clear that something had been brewing between the two.
But after the initial contact, Williams started throwing haymakers. Then, after the initial separation of the two, Williams took off his helmet, chased after Cooper, and yelled, "I'm not a [n-word] you [mess] with," according to a nearby player. And, finally, after Michael Vick stepped in, Williams said something that required even the quarterback to be held back.
"Cary understands we need him on the football field, not to be hotheaded at times," Vick said. "We know he's a guy who's very into his work and what we do. He can't be headstrong all day. He's got to be even-keel like everybody else."
Kelly said Friday that Williams hasn't become a problem in the locker room. But Williams already has earned the reputation of a player you want to avoid, several Eagles said. Williams has declined to answer questions from reporters the last two days. The Eagles also have tried to get him to talk to no avail.
The easiest way for Williams to erase the dubious start he's had in Philadelphia - and who could forget May's sconces? - is to make plays on the field. It's really that simple. But it will be difficult in a defense that is sure to have its growing pains and in a league that often has turned cornerbacks into sitting ducks.
Of the 77 cornerbacks the website Pro Football Focus rated in terms of coverage ability last season, Williams was 64th. Targeted 102 times, Williams allowed 67 catches for 938 yards and six touchdowns. He also recorded four interceptions, more than any Eagles defender.
The Eagles didn't sign Williams to a $17 million contract, $10.5 million of which was guaranteed, because he was a shutdown corner in Baltimore. Williams' specialty was in being able to bump and guard receivers man-to-man and make tackles when necessary. He was Pro Football Focus' second-most efficient tackler in 2012.
Kelly mentioned the 6-foot-1 Williams' length as a factor in signing him, but he is no longer than ex-Eagles corners Nnamdi Asomugha (6-2) and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (6-2). But he was more physical.
"He's such a competitive person. He's always around the ball," Kelly said. "I think he can make a lot of plays on the football. He gives you the ability to play some man coverage and blitz people because of his ability to play press."
But he's a blown-head-gasket away from getting kicked out of a game. In the last year alone, he got into a brief scrum with Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson when he was a Raven, was almost booted from the Super Bowl when he pushed an official, was benched after he mixed it up with a Patriots receiver during an August scrimmage, and fought with Cooper.
Kelly has continued to emphasize "play with emotion, don't let emotion play with you," but Williams has so far lacked the necessary self-control. He has stood out on a team that may be lacking in toughness, but not in professionalism.
Williams spoke last month about bringing nastiness back to the Eagles defense, but so far there's only been nuttiness.
Contact Jeff McLane at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_McLane.