Running back Jamaal Williams, coming off 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 put up career-best numbers in 2022, leading the league with 17 rushing touchdowns — which topped the franchise record set by Hall of Famer Barry Sanders in 1991 — while rushing for a career-high 1,066 yards.
In doing so, Williams, who turns 28 in April, became the first Lions player to top 1,000 rushing yards in a season since Reggie Bush did it in 2013.
Williams’ 10 goal-line touchdowns last season were also tops in the NFL.
His infectious personality made him a team leader among Lions teammates and the coaching staff. Around Christmas, he gifted players and members of the staff with custom robes and has often gone viral for his entertaining encounters with media members as well as 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 together.
The franchise has cycled through running backs for the past several years, releasing Murray at the beginning of the 2021 season (although it briefly brought him back in 2022). The Saints also brought in Devonta Freeman during training camp in 2021 but elected to go with 2020 undrafted rookie Tony Jones Jr. instead.
After Jones got hurt, the Saints reacquired Ingram in a trade with the Houston Texans in 2021 to address their lack of depth at running back. Although Ingram became the Saints’ all-time leader in rushing touchdowns and yards, he played in only 10 games in 2022 because of injuries. Ingram, 33, became a free agent Wednesday.
The agreement with Williams marked the latest in a flurry of moves for the Saints, who also reached deals with free agent defensive tackles Khalen Saunders and Nathan Shepherd. The addition of Williams also provides a backup plan in the event of a suspension for Kamara, who earlier this month pleaded not guilty to charges that he and three other men beat a man unconscious at a Las Vegas Strip nightclub before the NFL’s 2022 Pro Bowl. Kamara is scheduled to be 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 has rushed for 3,652 yards, caught 160 passes for 1,191 yards and scored 38 total touchdowns.
ESPN’s Katherine Terrell and Eric Woodyard contributed to this report.