Top 10 worst free agent signings by the Saints:
10. James “Tootie” Robbins
9. Grady Jackson
8. Eric Allen
7. Wally Williams
In 1998, the Baltimore Ravens used their franchise tag for the first time on offensive guard Wally Williams, and he played under that one year deal. However, in 1999, the Ravens chose not to tag him again, and Williams signed a 5-year $18.5 million deal with the Saints –including a $7 million dollar bonus.
Ditka’s plan was for his prize rookie Ricky Williams would trample the league running behind one of the best offensive lines in football. Indeed, with three first rounders (Roaf, Turley and Naole) along with Williams and the tough Jerry Fontenot at center, that actually wasn’t a far-fetched idea.
A healthy Billy Joe Hobert at QB, throwing to a receiving corps of Keith Poole, Andre Hastings, and former LSU star Eddie Kennison, and it seemed the Saints offense would finally become productive –and for a week and a half it was.
The Saints beat Carolina on opening day, and were leading the 49ers in San Francisco late in the 4th quarter 21-14, when it all unraveled. Hobert underthrew a pass to Kennison that was returned for a score; then Hobert suffered a head injury attempting to sneak the ball across the goal line to get the Saints back in the game.
And just like that, the quarterback carousel that defined the Saints under Ditka was back on.
Wally Williams suffered a neck injury, and missed 10 games that season.
Kennison struggled as a #2 receiver, and found a former LSU teammate Brett Bech getting more snaps at receiver.
Ricky Williams too, would struggle with the infamous high ankle sprain, and the Saints would win only 3 games. One of the many low points of that season included a dazed Ditka postgame press conference after the Saints 10th consecutive loss to the Falcons (a 35-12 trouncing), where Ditka said that he “didn’t have it anymore” and that the Saints “lack(ed) playmakers, and that it’s (Ditka’s) fault”
Four weeks later, the season mercifully ended, and Benson cleaned house –firing the GM, the coaches, and nearly everyone associated with the Ditka regime.
New GM Randy Mueller rebuilt the club, but left the offensive line intact. Ricky Williams became the first Saints running back in over a decade to rush for 1,000 yards, the Saints won 10 games and their first playoff berth.
Wally Williams played a large role in achieving that goal.
But the magic of 2000, did not carry over to 2001.
Williams struggled at guard, but there was a darker secret that would not be revealed for 13 years.
In 2014, the Washington Post ran a story reporting the ex-wife of Wally Williams, Dewan Smith-Williams, was urged by Jim Haslett and an attorney representing the NFL not to go public regarding alleging Williams engaging physical abuse during their marriage.
She stated that the abuse consisted of pushing and grabbing, and that whenever the police came, the suggestion was that the two “stay away from each other for a while” and that the police officers would more or less talk about football with Williams instead of investigating the actual incident.
Williams lost his starting job in 2002 to LeCharles Bentley, and in 2003, Williams would be cut from the team after he was suspended for a year for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.