Detroit Lions RB Jamaal Williams thriving after Packers let him go: 'They didn't want me'

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Leaving the only NFL team he'd ever known wasn't easy, but for Jamaal Williams, there was no other option.

Williams signed a two-year free agent deal with the Detroit Lions this spring after the Green Bay Packers decided to invest in Williams' longtime running mate, Aaron Jones, instead.

Jones signed a four-year, $48 million deal with the Packers in March, just as Williams' rookie contract was expiring.

"It ain’t hard for them to say 'bye," Williams said Thursday. “They let me (go). Y’all act like I left on my own, golly. I didn’t do it. Shoot, if I could have stayed, I could have stayed. If I can’t, they didn’t want me."

Detroit Lions running back Jamaal Williams has fun with fans before action against the San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, September 12, 2021 at Ford Field.
Detroit Lions running back Jamaal Williams has fun with fans before action against the San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, September 12, 2021 at Ford Field.

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Williams compared his departure to being dumped by a longtime girlfriend, and in that regard, his new amour is like his ex's good friend.

Williams will make his first trip as a visitor to Lambeau Field on Monday when the Lions play the Packers in a battle of 0-1 NFC North teams.

He said picking the Lions had nothing to do with getting to face his old team twice a season, but he isn't mad about that opportunity.

"Like that ex-girlfriend, shoot, I got to go," he said. "But I got a rebound, it was the Lions, they picked me up. Now they feeding me good, taking me to dinners. Another man’s trash is another man’s treasure."

Williams has been a treasure for the Lions so far this season, both on the field and in the locker room.

He started the Lions' season-opening loss to the San Francisco 49ers last week and led the team with 54 yards rushing and a touchdown on nine carries.

D'Andre Swift nearly doubled Williams' snap count, but both had similar workloads. Williams finished with 17 touches and 110 yards from scrimmage (including eight catches for 56 yards). Swift had 19 touches for 104 yards and a receiving touchdown.

In the locker room, the jovial Williams has been just as impactful. As a group of defensive linemen walked off the practice field Thursday, one yelled, "What's up, Swaggy?" as Williams conducted his media session.

"He’s exactly what I thought he would be and the vision of what he would be," Lions coach Dan Campbell said. "And that, man, there is true value in that because he was as steady and reliable a guy as you can have. He looked exactly like he did in camp. He ran hard, he was high-energy. He played smart. And he helped move the football for us."

Williams gave the Lions' traditionally dormant running game a lift against the 49ers, running for 10 yards on the game's first offensive play and breaking a team-best 20-yard run later in the first quarter.

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His eight catches matched a career high, and he scored his first touchdown as a Lion on a 1-yard run in the fourth quarter.

“I feel like it was a good first week," Williams said. "The more and more I get to see these situations I’m in and how I get to run the ball, I feel like I’m going to become more explosive. I’ll be able to do more. I’m just excited. I’m just grateful to be on this team, grateful for my linemen, everybody that blocked. Receivers. Me and Swift, we’re really just having fun out there. Really just going out there, running hard and making sure that everybody who’s blocking, their blocks ain’t in vain, so we’re going to make them count."

Detroit Lions running back Jamaal Williams (30) runs the ball against the San Francisco 49ers Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021 at Ford Field.
Detroit Lions running back Jamaal Williams (30) runs the ball against the San Francisco 49ers Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021 at Ford Field.

Williams said he's excited to return to Green Bay, where he spent the first four years of his career and racked up nearly 2,000 yards rushing. He still has friends on the team — players he has "grown to love over the years" — and he said if he gets in the end zone Monday he might do a Lambeau leap for old time's sake, but only if he finds Lions fans in the crowd.

"It’s part of life," he said. "You’re going to have those type of rejections, you’re going to get turned down. People ain’t going to want you, but when you get your shot and opportunity again from somebody who will give you your shot, you just got to take that opportunity, be grateful for it and make it count."

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Lions' Jamaal Williams ready for reunion with old flame