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The clock is ticking on a Saints-Marcus Williams contract extension

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Deadlines spur action, but Marcus Williams and the New Orleans Saints risk taking this one too close to the wire. NFL rule stipulate that franchise tagged players must sign a contract extension no later than July 15, or else play out the current season on the tag with no means of negotiating a new deal until the following offseason.

It shouldn’t be too hard for both sides to figure this out, especially with next week’s cutoff date looming over them. With more than $11.6 million in salary cap space following their recent extension with Ryan Ramczyk, the Saints have enough resources to meet whatever contract parameters Williams may be seeking. And it’s in Williams’ interest to secure his financial future.

But will the team and the player end up shaking hands? What’s the holdup?

The Saints clearly value Williams highly, or else they wouldn’t have issued the tag in the first place (a move that forced them to release No. 2 cornerback Janoris Jenkins in the process). That sets the stage for him to join the NFL’s highest-paid safeties, and his play backs it up. He already ranks within the top 10 interception leaders in franchise history.

If Williams doesn’t ink a new deal next week, things get difficult, but not impossible to navigate. The Saints could tag him again next offseason to continue to buy time in contract negotiations — that’s what the Denver Broncos did with Justin Simmons, one of Williams’ peers, who eventually signed a $15.25 million per-year extension to reset the safeties market.

That’s the ceiling for an extension with Williams, though a more realistic number would be in the $14 million per-year neighborhood. That’s where Eddie Jackson ($14.6 million), Kevin Byard ($14.1 million), Landon Collins and Tyrann Mathieu ($14 million each) all landed. Something approaching a four-year, $58 million deal feels appropriate for Williams’ qualifications and the state of the market, especially given he is two or three years younger than each of them with more room to grow as a player.

Hopefully the Saints can check this item off their offseason to-do list sooner rather than later. Finalizing an extension with Williams would free up other resources to go towards veteran free agents at positions of need, as well as upcoming contract talks with 2022 free agents like Marshon Lattimore and Terron Armstead. But this domino has to fall first.