Williams likely to be team's third cornerback

Three-year veteran cornerback Brian Williams, who has started all 32 games for the Minnesota Vikings over the past two years but figures to be bumped playing in the nickel package in 2005, has re-signed with the team.

Williams, 25, signed the one-year restricted free agent qualifying offer worth $1.43 million that the Vikings had tendered him two months ago. Despite two straight strong seasons, Williams drew little interest in free agency, in part because any team that signed him to an offer sheet would have been forced to compensate Minnesota with a first-round draft choice.

If he does not sign an extension before next spring, Williams will be eligible to become an unrestricted free agent.

The physical Williams, a strong run-support defender who registered a career-best 111 tackles in 2004, was the team's starter at right cornerback in both 2003 and 2004. The acquisition of unrestricted free agent Fred Smoot from Washington means that Williams will surrender his starting job, but he will still log considerable playing time because, like most teams, Minnesota uses three cornerbacks more than 50 percent of the time.

Williams joins Smoot and Antoine Winfield in providing the Vikings one of the best cornerback trios in the NFL. It is important for any team to go three deep at cornerback, but especially now in the NFC North. The Detroit Lions can put three former first-round wide receivers on the field at the same time, and Green Bay often uses three-wideout formations.

A fourth-round choice in the 2002 draft, Williams started seven games as a rookie, then moved into the lineup full time the following season. He had five interceptions in 2003 and, while his pickoffs dropped to two in 2004, he still recorded 16 passes defensed. In fact, in his two seasons as a starter, Williams had 16 pass deflections each year. He also averaged 90 tackles in that stretch, an unusually high number for a cornerback.

The former North Carolina State standout has 208 tackles, eight interceptions, 38 passes defensed and 208 tackles in 48 appearances and 39 starts.

In a related item, 10-year veteran Ken Irvin, scheduled to be the Vikings' No. 4 corner this year, departed the team's minicamp on Friday in a contract dispute. Irvin, who missed the entire 2004 season with a ruptured right Achilles tendon, is entering the final year of his contract and scheduled to have a base salary of $1.5 million. The Vikings have asked him to reduce that salary.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click hereInsider.