He didn’t spend much time here when you take in the full breadth of his career, but it might be fair to say that running back DeAngelo Williams was as beloved with the Pittsburgh Steelers as he was for most of his time with the Carolina Panthers.
The Steelers brought him in as a free agent in 2015 when the Panthers released him due to his high salary and increasing age, at the time already comfortably on the wrong side of 30. He knew going in what his role was going to be, which would be to spell Le’Veon Bell, coming off a breakout season.
That was not the case for their previous attempt to find another running back the year before. Bell was coming off an encouraging but still rather pedestrian rookie season when they brought in LeGarrette Blount, enticing him with the notion of being a one-two blunt—I mean punch. That didn’t sit well with him as Bell had an exceptional year while he stood on the sideline, and that began an unraveling that led to his release.
But Williams always knew and embraced his role, even though he ended up having a far bigger role than he was supposed to once Bell tore his MCL after playing six games in 2015. The former Pro Bowler found himself back in the starting lineup and put together a Pro Bowl-worthy season in his own right, rushing for nearly 1000 yards and tying for the league lead in rushing touchdowns.
At age 33, he dealt with injuries through much of his final season in 2016, but still had his moments. He remained unsigned throughout the past year, even dabbling in professional wrestling while waiting to hear from teams.
Does he still intend to try to play? He was adamant a year ago that he would continue to play, but it’s another year older, now 35. Does he really think he can still play?
It’s hard to say. He recently posted a video of himself running through a footwork drill, writing, “you never know who is watching!! So never give up and never stop working!”. He also included with it the hashtag #retiredandstillworking.
If he formally retired, we would know by now. He would have to fill out paperwork and it would pass through the NFL’s official transactions list. So we know he’s not officially retired yet. But is he mentally retired?
It probably doesn’t make much practical difference either way, given the unlikely prospect of any team calling him looking for him to come in and compete for a job in his mid-30s after sitting for an entire season.
While he never won a championship, Williams did have a full, and fulfilling career, endearing himself to a lot of people who will be grateful for what he has done both on the field and in the communities in which he worked. Players might eventually retire, but fandom doesn’t.