It didn't take Chris Williams long to land in the NFL.
Dan Vertlieb, Williams' Vancouver-based agent, told The Canadian Press on Thursday the former Hamilton Tiger-Cats star has signed with the NFL's New Orleans Saints. The move comes a day after Williams and the Ticats reached an agreement to allow CFL's top special-teams player last year to pursue opportunities south of the border.
In an email statement, Williams, who was married earlier this week, expressed his sincere appreciation to those who made it possible for him to land an NFL opportunity.
"I could not have gotten through this challenging time without the love and understanding of my wife Lana and my two children," Williams said. "I would like to thank everybody at the CFLPA, specifically president Mike Morreale and the rest of the executive and the union members, as well as Ed Molstad and the entire legal team.
"I also want to recognize my agent, Dan Vertlieb, and my lawyer Art Vertlieb. Dan and Art were with me every step of the way, providing guidance and support, and they have become like family to me in the process. I would also like to thank the Hamilton Tiger-Cats organization, my teammates, and especially the fans of Hamilton and the CFL for two wonderful years. I am so happy to bring this process to an end and I am very excited about the future."
Williams gets a raise
Contract details weren't immediately available but the 25-year-old Williams stands to make much more than the $48,000 base salary he was scheduled to earn this season in Hamilton.
The NFL's 2013 minimum salary is US$405,000 while players on the practice roster can earn roughly $90,000.
Under terms of the deal with Hamilton, should Williams return to the CFL either this season or next, it must be with the Ticats. However, given that Williams received multiple NFL offers moments after being free to entertain them, it's doubtful he'll be plying his trade in Canada any time soon.
Neither the Ticats nor the CFL commented on the agreement Thursday. Hamilton coach/GM Kent Austin addressed the Williams situation Friday prior to his signing with the Saints, albeit very briefly.
"The only comment I'll make is that Chris hasn't been relevant to our football club the entire year and he has no relevance to the team right now," Austin said.
Williams, a native of Fort Worth, Texas, went to arbitration to be released from the final year of his deal with Hamilton to pursue NFL offers. In June, arbitrator E.E. Palmer ruled the Ticats violated the CFL's collective bargaining agreement with the CFL Players' Association by negotiating with an unregistered agent.
However, Palmer said the penalty for that was a fine, not the termination of the contract. The Ticats weren't fined because the CFLPA didn't ask that one be imposed.
Squabble with Tiger-Cats
Palmer also found Hamilton had picked up the option on Williams's contract last October in accordance to the CBA but didn't use the exact language surrounding the renewal as laid out in the agreement. But he also ruled that wasn't enough to nullify the agreement.
Despite the arbitrator's decision, Williams chose not to report to the Ticats, who promptly suspended him.
The CFLPA applied for a judicial review of Palmer's decision. In late August, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice issued a ruling that quashed the arbitrator's original judgement while ordering the Ticats to pay court costs of $8,500.
The CFLPA then declared Williams a free agent. The CFL and Ticats both disagreed and planned to appeal the Ontario Superior Court ruling before the agreement was reached.
Williams signed a deal with Hamilton in 2011 that was negotiated by an agent not registered with the CFLPA. He contended he wasn't made fully aware of the conditions pertaining to his rookie contract and that Hamilton didn't offer him the one-year plus an option deal but rather just the two-year plus an option.
It's doubtful Williams will immediately crack New Orleans' active roster. The Saints (4-0) and are deep at receiver with the likes of Marques Colston and Robert Meachem and also have one of the NFL's top tight ends in Jimmy Graham.
Williams a game-changer
New Orleans also boasts one of the NFL's top kick returners in Darren Sproles, 30, a five-foot-six, 190-pound running back in his ninth season who owns the NFL's single-season record for all-purpose yards.
Williams also hasn't had the benefit of training camp, practices or any games at all this season and would require time to get into football shape and thus be able to compete against players who've been on the field longer than he has.
But in the CFL, Williams was a game-changer. Last year he had a Ticats-record 17 TDs, including a league-record six on kick returns.
The five-foot-eight, 175-pound Williams was named the CFL's top rookie in 2011 after registering 70 receptions for 1,064 yards and six TDs. He also had 12 kickoff returns for 252 yards and a touchdown while returning 12 punts for 81 yards.
Williams was even better last season, with 83 catches for 1,298 yards and 11 TDs. He also led the CFL in punt returns with 78 for 1,117 yards and five touchdowns while adding five missed field goal returns for 256 yards and a TD.
Williams played collegiately at New Mexico State and joined the NFL's Miami Dolphins as an undrafted free agent in 2009. He was released with an injury settlement prior to the start of the season.
Williams signed with the Cleveland Browns later in the year and spent time on the practice roster before being let go.