The Hamilton Tiger-Cats head coach and general manager says he would entertain having Williams return to the CFL club, despite the disgruntled receiver's unsuccessful attempt to have the final year of his contract voided.
An arbitrator ruled Tuesday that Williams' deal with the Ticats was binding even though it was negotiated by an unregistered agent, which is a violation of the CFL's collective bargaining agreement.
But, in the opinion of the arbitrator, that still wasn't enough to rule the contract void.
Williams, the CFL's top special-teams player last season, went to arbitration asking to be released from his deal with Hamilton so he could reportedly pursue NFL offers. Williams was a no-show for both Hamilton's mini-camp in April and the start of training camp Sunday and it remains unclear whether he'll report now to the Ticats or sit out the season then pursue an NFL deal in 2014.
The other options Williams has are to rejoin the Ticats or ask to be dealt to another CFL team. Austin said Wednesday if Williams opts to return, he'll have fences to mend with both the organization and his teammates.
"Everything has to be evaluated," Austin said. "Every player will be evaluated in relation to his ability to play this game and desire to fit on this football team.
"It's no different than any of these guys that are out here right now. Chris will be evaluated the same way, if in fact he wants to come back."
If Williams does return, Austin said the player's first order of business will be to apologize to the team personally.
"I'd hope he'd bring that forward on his own and have enough wisdom to figure that out on his own," Austin said. "If he didn't then it would be requested (by Ticats)."
The five-foot-eight, 175-pound Williams signed with Hamilton in October 2010 and spent time on the practice roster before re-signing with the CFL club in May 2011. The 25-year-old native of Fort Worth, Texas, wasted little time making his mark in the league.
Williams was named the CFL's top rookie in 2011 after registering 70 receptions for 1,064 yards and six TDs. He also had 12 kickoff returns for 252 yards and a touchdown while returning 12 punts for 81 yards.
Williams was even better last season, with 83 catches for 1,298 yards and 11 TDs. He also led the CFL in punt returns with 78 for 1,117 yards and five touchdowns while adding five missed field goal returns for 256 yards and a TD.
But Williams is scheduled to earn a 2013 base salary of $48,000, which pales in comparison to the NFL's minimum salary, which is $405,000 this year. Players on NFL practice rosters earn roughly $90,000 annually.
Hamilton has been willing to renegotiate with Williams, having reportedly offered the speedy receiver a new two-year deal (one year, plus an option) at an estimated $180,000 per season. But Austin was non-commital when asked if that was still on the table.
"I don't know if it would or wouldn't," he said. "I haven't had any conversations with him or his agent.
"We would look at if he wants to extend and commit to Hamilton then we'd go through the process and evaluate that like we would any other player we wanted to sign to an extension with."
What the Williams situation has done is draw attention to the issue of unregistered agents negotiating CFL deals. It's a popular contention throughout the league that between 30 and 50 per cent of all player contracts are struck by agents not registered with the CFL Players' Association.
And with preliminary talks having started on a new CBA — the present agreement expires prior to the start of training camp in 2014 — both the CFL and CFLPA would appear to be in a position to address the issue at the bargaining table.
Williams has been an important contributor to Hamilton's offence the last two seasons, and his absence this season would create a huge void for the Ticats. However, Austin said if Williams isn't on the field the onus will be on the other receivers to step up.
"You replace him with other guys," Austin said. "Yeah, it's that simple.
"If we go into a situation preparing our football team to produce ... with that subconsciously or consciously as an excuse then we've created an artificial safety net for failure. You're indirectly creating the excuse for the players that do find themselves on the football field that, 'Oh well, I guess we can't live up to that level of production therefore I'm not expected to.' Well, you are expected to."
Canadian receiver Sam Giguere agrees.
"I don't think the offence has to depend on one guy," he said. "I think it's a weakness if it's that way and I think we have the players on offence to be able to step up and keep going.
"No, this hasn't been a distraction. The coaching staff, especially coach Austin, did a good job when we first came in of telling us about the situation and saying we were going to get ready for the season and be working hard and if Chris comes back, he comes back and if he doesn't, he doesn't. We have an 18-game season to play and we're going to be ready no matter what.''