Bears sign fourth-round choice LB Williams

Updated: July 1, 2006, 10:37 AM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

The Chicago Bears have capped a busy week at the bargaining table by signing rookie linebacker Jamar Williams, a fourth-round draft choice from Arizona State who could fit prominently into the team's plans for the future, to his first NFL contract.

Williams signed a four-year, $2.025 million contract. The deal includes a $415,000 signing bonus and minimum base salaries of $275,000 (for 2006), $360,000 (2007), $445,000 (2008) and $530,000 (2009). He is the fourth of Chicago's seven selections in this year's draft to come to terms on a contract.

Earlier in the week, the Bears negotiated contract extensions with starting strongside linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer and with versatile backup tailback Adrian Peterson. They also signed former Seattle Seahawks wide receiver and special teams standout Alex Bannister to a one-year deal as a free agent.

At a predictably slow time for rookie negotiations leaguewide, Williams, the 120th overall choice in April, is actually the second-highest selected player in the 2006 draft class to sign his first contract. Only Mario Williams, the defensive end chosen by the Houston Texans with the top pick, is higher. There are just three players in the first four rounds who have completed contracts.

While the Bears boast one of the NFL's top linebacker corps, Williams could see situational playing time as a rookie and, depending on negotiations with Pro Bowl weakside linebacker Lance Briggs, might be a starter by his second season. Briggs is entering the final season of his original rookie contract and, without an extension, will be eligible for unrestricted free agency next spring. Discussions toward an extension collapsed in April, and Briggs then skipped much of the team's voluntary offseason program.

The other two starters, middle linebacker Brian Urlacher and Hillenmeyer, are both signed through 2011.

The Chicago staff has been excited with the versatility of Williams, who split starts at both outsides spots as a senior at Arizona State, and by his all-around skills. Along with solid physical skills, and the ability to close on the ball with his 4.59-second speed in the 40, Williams is a very instinctive defender and a better athlete than many scouts thought.

Williams appeared in 48 games at ASU and started 35 of them. He totaled 256 tackles, 25 of them for losses, and had six sacks, eight interceptions and four forced fumbles. He is a good blitzer, and is excellent in coverage, as evidenced by three interceptions each in his junior and senior campaigns.

Leaguewide, there are now 20 draft choices with signed contracts in the pool of 255 players. Thirteen of the completed deals are in the sixth and seventh rounds. San Francisco, Washington and Chicago have combined to sign 14 of the picks. Neither the Bears nor the Redskins had first-round choices in this year's draft.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.