NASHVILLE, Tenn -- Tennessee Titans linebacker Avery Williamson figures 2018 might be his favorite year yet. He's already got his first playoff win and when free agency starts this week, Williamson will likely receive a payday that will change his life forever. He promises not to spend it all in one place.
No matter what kind of deal Williamson gets this week, he figures it won't top the sights he saw last month when he took a week-long trip to Israel. Williamson visited a number of holy sites and he, several other NFL players including Josh Norman and Chris Harris Jr., and his sister, Erika, were also baptized in the Jordan River.
"One of the most remarkable places I’ve ever been to, hands down," Williamson told ESPN Sunday. "It's my favorite trip in life so far. I learned so much about Middle East history."
Williamson, 26, lets his mind wander back to football. He would love to play linebacker for the Titans in 2018 but only if they can agree on his value. They haven't so far and it's not too late to do so, Williamson said, even though his agent will begin negotiating with other teams starting Monday.
"It’s home for me. Tennessee is home. If everything goes right, man, definitely I want to be back," said Williamson, who is from Milan, Tennessee just two hours west of Nashville. "I told [Mike] Vrabel that too. There would be no point of even talking if I didn’t want to come back. It's definitely cool playing for your hometown team. It's a blessing."
But it's definitely a business. You got to be satisfied with what you're getting. Whether this is with the Titans or elsewhere, I know God has a plan for me."
The Titans' big changes have surprised Williamson, but they haven't scared him away. Williamson said he wasn't expecting Mike Mularkey to be fired, but he's met with Vrabel and talked with the Titans linebacker coaches about what the transition would look like in 2018.
"They definitely want me back. [Titans general manager] Jon Robinson is about his business. They’re definitely going to make it a mission to get me back on the team," Williamson said. "They're going to try to get this team to the top."
Williamson, one of, if not the, best 3-4 inside linebackers available in free agency, plays a position that has had a mixed bag of financial success over the last few years. Zach Brown and Kevin Minter were among those disappointed last offseason having to settle for one-year deals, but there are a few recent examples of teams willing to pay well for consistent contributors.
The Browns' Christian Kirksey (four-year, $38 million), the Broncos' Brandon Marshall (four-year, $32 million), and the Bears' Danny Trevathan (four-year, $28 million) are all off-ball linebackers who recently received big paydays.
Williamson led the Titans with more than 100 tackles in two of the last three seasons and helped the Titans achieve the fourth-ranked rushing defense in 2017. He's a proven run defender and has flashed as a blitzer (11.5 sacks in four NFL seasons), but his gaps in coverage prevented him from being a three-down linebacker last year. He has also missed just one game in his NFL career.
New England, Pittsburgh and the New York Jets are teams that could come in play if a deal with Tennessee can't get done.
"The biggest thing for me is to stay busy during this week. I'm trying not to stress about it. It's like draft day all over again," Williamson said. "I put in the work. I did everything I could to be successful and get paid what I want. I can't change what I've done over the last four years. The hay is in the barn."