CINCINNATI -- Bengals safety Shawn Williams, a longtime backup who has been expected to enter the starting rotation this season, agreed to a four-year contract extension Tuesday that will keep him in Cincinnati through the 2020 season, the team announced.
A 2013 third-round pick, the former Georgia standout has been a key member of various Bengals special teams units his entire NFL career. His play on special teams created opportunities to play on defense, where he was primarily a reserve to veterans George Iloka and Reggie Nelson.
After Nelson was signed by the Oakland Raiders earlier this spring, Williams is expected to slide into a starting role.
"We see Shawn as an ascending player," defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said in a news release. "He's smart, he's tough, and he's not limited in his role. He can do a lot of things well."
Coaches have praised Williams throughout his tenure and have promised the past two offseasons to get him on the field more. That became a little more difficult last season after Nelson tied for the league lead with eight interceptions.
Williams had the most defensive playing time of his career in 2015, finishing with 32 tackles and two interceptions. One of those interceptions came in the final minutes of a 16-10 win at Pittsburgh in Week 8, as Williams jumped a running back's route and dove toward the Bengals sideline. It was one of the biggest plays of the year for the Bengals.
"Shawn is one of our bright, young players, and we're excited to have him as part of the team moving forward," coach Marvin Lewis said. "He has been a physical player, and he has increased his value as a playmaker on the ball. This is just one more part of our plan, which is to draft the right players, develop them and retain them."
Last month, the Bengals drafted another safety, picking Clayton Fejedelem (Illinois) in the seventh round.