FLOWERY BRANCH — The Atlanta Falcons released disgruntled safety Jimmy Williams on Tuesday, two years after trading up 10 spots to pick him in the second round of the NFL draft.
"It's a football decision," new Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "It's a decision we made, and one that we've been evaluating."
With only seven career starts in 27 games, Williams made a poor first impression on Smith, who demoted the former Virginia Tech standout to third string after he reported to a voluntary mini-camp nearly 20 pounds overweight.
Williams skipped the next two days of the voluntary camp, but despite falling behind Erik Coleman and rookie Thomas DeCoud on the depth chart, he was present at every team session before Tuesday.
"I knew it could get to this point, but I wasn't sure it would," Williams told the Daily Press of Newport News, Va. "They've been upset with my weight, but I didn't think the weight thing was a big issue. I thought they were hiding behind that. Other than that, there weren't any real disputes between me and the Falcons."
Williams was deemed expendable despite DUI charges Atlanta police filed last weekend against safety Daren Stone, who was on the field at practice Tuesday.
Stone is listed as the No. 2 strong safety behind Lawyer Milloy.
"There isn't really anything I can say other than I'm disappointed," Smith said. "We're disappointed as an organization. I spoke with Daren and, again, any of those conversations I would like to keep private."
Williams, who has just one interception and 40 tackles in his career, seemed at odds with the Falcons under three coaching staffs. An ankle injury contributed to his struggles as a rookie under former coach Jim Mora, and last year's coach, Bobby Petrino, put him on the inactive list twice for poor play on special teams.
Before mini-camp in May 2007, former defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer moved Williams from cornerback to safety, but the switch didn't help. Williams failed to beat out Chris Crocker for a starting job, a scenario similar to his rookie year when Jason Webster stayed atop the depth chart at right cornerback.
Falcons president and former general manager Rich McKay swapped draft picks with Green Bay to take Williams 37th overall in 2006. He was the first pick that year for Atlanta, which didn't have a first-round spot after acquiring defensive end John Abraham in a three-team trade.
But Williams' stock had fallen enough as a senior that four NFL teams drafted cornerbacks ahead of him. Entering his final year at Virginia Tech, Williams had been considered by some draft experts as the best player at his position.
The dismissal of Williams leaves the Falcons with only one former Virginia Tech player, imprisoned quarterback Michael Vick.
When Williams was drafted, team owner Arthur Blank seemed proud of Atlanta's connection with the Hokies, saying that "we're building a little fraternity here."
Cornerback DeAngelo Hall was coming off his first Pro Bowl season, Matt Lehr started at left guard, Bryan Randall was competing for a backup quarterback job, and Vick was the franchise centerpiece.
Vick's dogfighting crimes landed him a 23-month federal sentence and indefinite NFL suspension last year. Lehr, who served a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's steroid policy in 2006, was cut in March '07 after an ineffective and injury-marred season.
Hall complained throughout Petrino's lone season with Atlanta. His demands for a new contract didn't sit well with new general manager Thomas Dimitroff, who traded Hall to Oakland in March.
Randall, the Atlantic Coast Conference offensive player of the year in 2004, was placed on waivers twice by the Falcons.
Also Tuesday afternoon, the Falcons signed seventh-round draft pick Wilrey Fontenot to a rookie contract.
Fontenot, 5-9, 169 pounds, started all 46 games he played in during his productive college career at the University of Arizona. Fontenot totaled 174 tackles (130 solos), five interceptions and 25 passes defensed for the Wildcats. He was the first of the seventh-round choices by the Falcons this year.