The life of any given NFL player can be fleeting. The mobile lifestyle is bestowed on some players more than others, but typically all players are affected by it at some point. For new Bengals cornerback B.W. Webb, a career has come at the price of a nomadic life that few experience in the National Football League.
Webb has represented eight teams in his seven year career and has never remained on a team for more than one season. So, how did this journeyman defensive back earn a three-year contract with the Bengals during free agency? The answer starts with the city of Newport News, Va.
“It was cool growing up there,” Webb said. “That’s where all the athletes come from, so man it was all love growing up.”
With names such as Michael Vick and Hall of Famer Henry Jordan from Newport News, Webb had some history on his side in terms of players who made it. As he grew older, it was his turn to write his own story.
Webb was an intriguing prospect coming out of Warwick High School, with superior athletic ability and great speed. But, at 5-10, 180 pounds, his size limited him to one college scholarship offer from The College of William & Mary, 30 minutes from where he grew up.
“William & Mary is a great school. I had a ball in college, and met some great guys,” Webb said.
One of those guys is Bengals safeties coach Robert Livingston. Webb and Livingston played together for one season in 2009 when Webb debuted as a redshirt freshman. Livingston knew that Webb was undervalued as a recruit.
“He’s undersized and that’s the only reason he went to William & Mary,” said Livingston. “He had major college looks, but teams just thought he was too skinny.”
Livingston, a starting safety and senior leader on the Tribe’s defense, only needed to see Webb’s first career game to realize his potential.
“We were playing against the University of Virginia,” Livingston said. “We got out there and we’re like ‘Is this kid going to be ok?’ Well, he had three interceptions and took one to the house, and we won the game. It was in that moment that I realized B.W. was going to be a lot better player than I ever was.”
Virginia was one of those schools that took a look at Webb, but shied away because of his lack of size. Webb played with a chip on his shoulder and now that performance is known as one of the most memorable in school history. The NCAA took notice too, making Webb the first FCS player ever to be awarded national defensive player of the week.
“That was one to remember,” Webb recalled, “I think that kind of got me on the map. NFL teams started looking at it, it was just a blessing.”
Webb earned the Colonial Athletic Association defensive rookie of the year in 2009 and tied for second nationally with eight interceptions. He also went on to be a three-time All-CAA First Team selection from 2010-2012. It was a resume worthy of a NFL combine visit, where Webb ran a 4.46 40-yard dash and recorded a 40.5 inch vertical leap.
The Cowboys selected Webb in the fourth round of the 2013 draft. After appearing in 15 games for the Cowboys, Webb was released the following preseason. Since then he was a member of the Steelers in 2014, the Titans in 2015, the Saints in 2016, the Giants in 2018 and now the Bengals. Webb was also in training camp with the Bears in 2017 before getting cut prior to the regular season. He signed with the Browns late in that season, only to be released a week later.
The reasons behind Webb’s releases varied from team to team. He fell victim to the final round of pre-season cuts on four separate occasions. In the 2014 preseason, a hip injury factored in his release from the Cowboys. The Steelers snatched him on waivers and he contributed primarily on special teams. After another pre-season release the following season, the Titans kicked the tires on Webb. He appeared in nine games in 2015, securing his first NFL interception against Saints quarterback Drew Brees. New Orleans then took its chance on Webb the following season to provide depth after major injuries in the secondary. Webb performed well, recording 11 passes defensed while starting eight games. A wrist injury contributed to the disappointing year with the Bears and the Browns that followed, leaving Webb out of football for all but one week of the 2017 season.
So how does a guy keep the faith in his game? How does a guy not get discouraged after being discarded by a new team every season?
Take a look at new Bengals CB B.W. Webb in action. Webb spent the 2018 season with the New York Giants.
“I mean you get mad sometimes, but you can’t really stick on it too much,” Webb said. “That’s why you surround yourself with good people and family. Family always keeps your hopes and spirits up, so I never got down on myself.”
With the odds stacked against him again, Webb knew he needed to take his game to the next level, but his approach wouldn’t falter.
“Nothing changes,” Webb said. “You just got to remain focused, because you know what you have to do. You know what your job is. You just have to keep pushing, sometimes it’s just the business, man.”
Sometimes, the business also tends to work in one’s favor. Webb found a home with the Giants last year. Playing in all 16 games with 13 starts, Webb won the job as the starting nickel corner. When fellow cornerback Eli Apple was traded after week seven, Webb shifted outside for the rest of the season. He finished with career highs with 59 tackles, six passes defensed, one interception, one sack and one forced fumble.
During this time, a relationship formed between Webb and then Giants defensive backs coach, Lou Anarumo, soon to be named the Bengals defensive coordinator.
“He made the most of his opportunity at New York, it’s where he settled in,” Anarumo said. “It doesn’t matter what year a guy is in one, two or six. You keep playing and keep preparing. You never know when you’ll get your opportunity, and you’ll stick.”
When Cincinnati needed cornerback depth, there was no question which direction Anarumo wanted to look with Webb a free agent again.
“It was very important to get him here, because I can trust him,” said Anarumo. “He can help coach the other guys about the little nuances of the defense. He knows what I want and how I want it done, and that is a huge help for me.”
On Anarumo’s recommendation, the Bengals signed Webb to a three-year, $10.5 million contract for his first multi-year contract since signing his rookie deal with the Cowboys.
“When you call it like it is, B.W. has been an underdog his whole career,” Livingston said. “It’s unbelievable when you think about it, the journey he took to get here. He just beat down doors and never took no for an answer. It’s pretty special.”
“It’s a tribute to his persistence, he is a tough guy to fight through all the changes in his career,” Anarumo said.
Bengals defensive end Kerry Wynn, Webb’s teammate with the Giants, is never surprised when Webb succeeds. They’ve known each other since their college days when Wynn played at Richmond.
“He’s always been a good player,” Wynn said. “I watched him work all last year. He’s one of those guys that puts his head down, gets after it every play every single day. So, he deserves it.”
Webb is competing in a highly talented cornerback room that contains veterans Dre Kirkpatrick, William Jackson III and Darqueze Dennard. But competition is nothing new to B.W.
“Hopefully I can grow with these guys,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it.”