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Jamaal Williams, who is returning from a career year with the Detroit Lions, has agreed to join the New Orleans Saints on a three-year, $12 million deal, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
The deal includes $8 million fully guaranteed.
Williams fit seamlessly into the Lions’ system after joining the team as an unrestricted free agent in 2021. He earned a career-best mark in 2022 and led the league with 17 rushing touchdowns—surpassing the franchise record set by Hall of Famer Barry Sanders in 1991—while rushing for a career-high 1,066 yards.
With that, Williams, who turns 28 in April, became the first Lions player to surpass 1,000 rushing yards in a season since Reggie Bush did so in 2013.
Williams’ 10 goal-line touchdowns last season were also NFL-leading.
His infectious personality made him a team leader among Lions teammates and the coaching staff. Around Christmas, he gifted players and staffers custom robes and often went viral for his entertaining encounters with media members and his motivational speeches on HBO’s “Hard Knocks”.
The Saints struggled with consistency on offense in 2022, finishing the season ranked 19th in rushing yards. New Orleans hasn’t had a solid duo in the backfield since it paired Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray during the 2020 season when they finished sixth in rushing yards. It also finished sixth in rushing yards in 2018 when Kamara and Mark Ingram were paired.
The franchise has gone through a downturn in recent years, releasing Murray at the start of the 2021 season (although it brought him back briefly in 2022). The Saints also brought in Devonta Freeman during training camp in 2021, but chose to go with undiscovered rookie Tony Jones Jr. instead. to go out in 2020.
After Jones was injured, the Saints re-purchased Ingram in a trade with the Houston Texans in 2021 to address their lack of depth running back. Although Ingram became the Saints’ all-time leader in rushing touchdowns and yards, he only played in 10 games in 2022 due to injuries. Ingram, 33, became a free agent on Wednesday.
The deal with Williams marked the latest in a wave of moves for the Saints, who also struck deals with free agent defensive tackles Khalen Saunders and Nathan Shepherd. The addition of Williams also provides a back-up plan in the event of a suspension for Kamara, who earlier this month pleaded not guilty to charges that he and three other men knocked a man unconscious at a Las Vegas Strip nightclub in front of the Pro Bowl of the NFL in 2022. Kamara is due back in court in July.
Williams spent his first four seasons with the Green Bay Packers after being selected in the fourth round of the 2017 draft. In six NFL seasons, he rushed for 3,652 yards, caught 160 passes for 1,191 yards, and scored a total of 38 touchdowns .
ESPN’s Katherine Terrell and Eric Woodyard contributed to this report.