ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Five years, four teams and one stint at Amazon later, defensive lineman DeShawn Williams finally got to enjoy the final hours of an NFL cutdown day instead of staring at his cellphone — hoping it wouldn’t ring.
The 28-year-old was one of the 53 players who remained with the Denver Broncos when they trimmed their roster earlier this week, the first time he had survived a team’s final cut since 2016 when he eventually played in four games for the Cincinnati Bengals.
“It was weird, for the first year, I didn’t have to check my phone, looking at who’s been cut or what number — if it was a 303 or 720 number,” Williams said. “I just went out the whole day — my wife and I — and we just looked at each other like we are not stressing. It was wonderful. We didn’t have to stress all day.”
Williams is a study in vocational perseverance, or as teammate Shelby Harris, who has been waived six times, put it, “We’re damn good football players and we deserve everything we’ve achieved … a bunch of dogs.” Since Williams entered the league as an undrafted rookie with the Bengals in 2015, he has been waived:
Four times by the Bengals
Three times by the Broncos
Two times by the Dolphins
Once by the Colts
So, folks just might have to forgive a guy for smiling so hard, so often, as the regular season approaches.
“It’s been a long time, but I wouldn’t change it,” Williams said. “The route, it made me better. It made me understand the game more and cherish the little things like putting the helmet on and going through that gate everyday knowing that I can come here and do what I’m here to do. I can’t put it into words. This is not the end; this is just the beginning. I’ve got the season starting and now I know I have big things ahead for me and this team, so I’m just ready to get started.”
A year ago, Williams was working at Amazon, and his phone not ringing was NOT a good thing. “I was just trying to figure out what I was going to do,” Williams said.
But then Broncos defensive line coach Bill Kollar called him last August to see if he had been working out and if he could come into a training camp and be ready to practice.
The Broncos brought Williams in, then waived him — again — but liked enough of what they saw to sign him to the practice squad. When injuries and absences thinned the defensive line depth chart, Williams moved to the roster and played in 11 games.
This summer he was consistently among the top six players in the defensive line rotation. During the Broncos’ preseason win over the Seattle Seahawks, Williams recovered a fumble and had a diving interception.
“You guys know all the good numbers that you can juice up your article with — how many days he was out of football and how many times he’s been cut and all that,” Broncos coach Vic Fangio said. “He was a guy we brought back last year. He hadn’t played in a long time. He took advantage of the situation and he’s made it very hard for us to not keep him. It’s a great story. I know he appreciates each and every day that he’s here. He tells me that. We love having him on the team.”
For Williams there is a certain unexpectedness to eventually sticking with the Broncos. When he was asked this week if he had a low point in his pursuit of a roster spot, he said it was 2018 in Denver.
That year the Broncos waived him on Aug. 31 as one of the last cuts in coach Vance Joseph’s second and final season with the team.
“I felt like I had my best camp,” Williams said. “I dominated in the [preseason] games, in practices. When I got cut the last minute of the deadline, that hurt. I just broke down [to] Shelby and [former Broncos defensive tackle] Zach Kerr at the time was here and they just told me y’all will be good, man. I say that was by far the worst one. Obviously, nothing beats 2020 because of COVID and I was with the unknown, but then got the call from Bill [Kollar] and it changed everything.”
Kollar has long been a defensive line whisperer — former Broncos and Texans coach Gary Kubiak called him “the best of the best at what he does” — always pulling a little more effort, a few more results and a few more seasons out of players who simply grow accustomed to the raspy, staccato, knife-edged voice of accountability that cuts through any practice.
Kollar has said of his players, “We just want to get them playing, the right way, all the time, affect games, we want to pressure the passer, get our hands up, knock the ball down, we want them to play the way they can when I see it’s in there.”
“I don’t know what I’d be doing if I didn’t get that call from Bill, so that’s why I say Bill is my safety blanket,” Williams said. “He saved my career, so I appreciate him for everything.”