CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - One of the biggest names for the Carolina Panthers for the past nine seasons says he learned last week he'll no longer be a part of the team.
DeAngelo Williams says he was told last Monday that he was being released during a conversation with head coach Ron Rivera and general manager Dave Gettleman.
"We sat down and he told me 'The fact of the matter is we're going to have to release you'," Williams told anchor Molly Grantham. "I said you know, 'Why?' and he said, 'because we don't run the ball enough. Just like you said back before the season started, we don't run the ball enough to keep you and both [Jonathan Stewart], so we're going to release you'."
Williams said the entire conversation lasted around ten minutes and was the last he's heard from the team.
"I don't feel bitter at all. [Stewart] had the hot hand at the end of the season. He's a great running back, obviously. I don't feel bitter at all. It's a business," Williams said. "And that business comes back and reminds us year after year - whether it be Steve Smith, whether it be Jordan Gross, whether it be myself - it's going to happen to every guy in that locker room, so it doesn't bother me at all."
The conversation didn't come as a surprise to Williams, who has spent his entire career with the Panthers.
"I'll be 32 this year. You know, nine years in the game. I kinda knew the writing was on the wall," he said. "I know I still have a few years left in me. I'm just ready for the next chapter of life."
Williams says he knows getting released from the team isn't a personal thing, just a part of the business.
"You learn that [football] is a business and you can't get sidetracked by that because that's when feelings are hurt and people leave bitter. I'm not bitter at all," he said. "I mean, I really appreciate the nine years I put in with the Carolina Panthers."
"We didn't have much contact upstairs," he continued. "But in that locker room, coaching staff and everything, my hat's off to them. They're going to do some big things."
Williams says the contact between the "people upstairs" and the people in the locker room was limited.
"As far as front office and stuff like that, I can probably count on one hand how many times I've been up there," he says.
For fans, the situation sounds similar to last year's release of former Panthers' receiver Steve Smith, who claims he learned about his release from media reports and that team management was distant before his release.
Williams says it is not the same.
"The reason I say it's not deja vu is that listening to some of the stories that transpired through Steve and that front office and how they handled him... could it have been handled better? Probably. I'm not sure because I'm not sure what's truth and what's fiction," he said. "But I know they told me to my face they're going to release me."
That difference, Williams said, was monumental in his mind.
"I felt like that was a big honor to me because they could've just released me through text or told my agent. But to call me in the office and tell me to my face, Gettleman and Coach Rivera, that 'we're going to release you', made me feel pretty good about my standing, my relationship with the Carolina Panthers."
He says he isn't bothered by being released, which bothers him.
"I walked out of the office and I sat in my truck and I took a deep breath and I made a phone call. The first words out of my phone call was 'They're releasing me. I'm kinda upset'," he said. "And the person I was calling was like, 'Man don't be upset that they're releasing you...'. I said, 'Well, I'm not upset that they're releasing me. I'm upset at how I responded to them releasing me. Because I was cool with it'."
That person suggested maybe his reaction came from knowing he had closure.
"Leading up to this point I've seen guys - for nine years I've seen guys - leave there, teary-eyed, crying, not knowing what they're going to do. Have no idea what to do and just like torn down and bitter about it," he said. "My response to it -- and I've always told myself I'm going to be one of those guys one of these years, it's going to tear me up when they release me -- and when he said they was releasing me, it didn't do any of that."
"So I felt like it was a problem in me, like 'Why wasn't I like all the other guys that left there bitter and upset, or saying bad things about the organization, or just not being happy about it'," he continued. "That's what bothered me. That I wasn't like the rest of the guys."
Williams says he's not going to say "good-bye" just yet.
"Because I'm not going anywhere," he said. "I'll still be the same person. I'll just have a different uniform on. There's no way I can end my career with the season that I had last year. So I want to end on a positive note. I want to win a Super Bowl. I want to play on the largest platform that you can play in in the NFL and that's the Super Bowl, so I'm going to keep going."
Williams is well-aware of his injury-ridden performance last season.
"I want to go out on a good year. Because you're only as good as your last year, and my last year wasn't good at all, in terms of how I wanted it to be," he said. "So, I've got another shot."
He says after so many years with one team, he thought he would retire as a Panther. He says they told him he can come back and retire here if he'd like.
"I would want to do that," he said.
Williams says football is more than playing a game on the field every Sunday. He tweeted a message Saturday saying, "those that say ball is life must not have faith and family." Many people who know and follow DeAngelo Williams on social media see pictures he shows of his two girls (though careful to never show their faces) and his passion for the breast cancer cause.
He says that passion comes from his mother.
Williams mom, Sandra Hill, died after a long battle with breast cancer on May 16th, 2014, days after her 53rd birthday. She had first been diagnosed in 2004. It came back in 2010.
His four aunts had all died from breast cancer by the year 2011.
"It made me stronger," he said. "And it made me realize that again, ball isn't life. Family and faith is."
His family's struggle with breast cancer has led DeAngelo to be very active in Susan G Komen Charlotte for several years.
In 2009, Williams started working with the NFL to turn it "pink" during the month of October.
"We're now pink because of her," he told WBTV in a 2014 interview. "My mom. I take pride in knowing the NFL is pink in October, sparking conversations everywhere about breast cancer and prevention, all in the spirit of my mom."
He says when his mom went into Hospice care, he told Rivera, who expressed his prayers. Gettleman also sent a text during that time as well. They both appeared to offer their support when she died just weeks later.
"[Gettleman] was like, 'Man we're praying for you'. I said 'I really appreciate it, thank you so much. He said, 'If there's anything we can ever do for you, don't hesitate to call.' I was like man.. you know I really appreciate that.' That was the end. That was it," he said.
"Nobody came to the funeral," he said. "The owner didn't reach out. He didn't say anything. Never talked to me. Nobody upstairs ever talked to me. The only two people who ever said anything to me was Coach Rivera and Dave Gettleman. Everybody else was... they were busy because it was the draft."
He continued. "I was upset with Carolina, because the last five or six years during October, [my mom] was celebrated, but then when she was no longer here -- let's move on. [I was] very disappointed. And, somewhat angry [...] it stung to know that a place of business that you've worked for, you've bled, you've played through injuries, you've done everything you possibly can for this organization to be successful, and then upon your darkest hour, they let you, handle it by yourself."
Williams says he doesn't harbor any resentment towards Rivera or Gettleman. He also says they represented themselves when they reached out, not the team.
"There's nothing that Coach Rivera and Dave Gettleman can do to me that will make me mad or make me hate them because in my darkest hour they were there for me."
Williams says weeks later Jerry Richardson left a note in his locker commenting on an article DeAngelo had written about his mother's death (it was published online by Sports Illustrated). And in July, Williams says Richardson apologized to him saying there had not been a policy in place to deal with the death of a loved one.
Now there is.
"My situation with my mom brought about change," Williams says. "They have a plan in place now. This was the catalyst for putting that plan in place. Because we've had players lose family members now and Gettleman and Coach Rivera went to the funeral or showed up at the memorial service or things of that nature."
When his mother's funeral was held in Arkansas last year, Williams' said one player, only one, made the trek down to support him.
"And there's nothing he could say or do in my eyes that are bad," he said. "Greg Hardy was there [...] he was the only one there for me. All the players around the league, all the players in the locker room - they texted and called. But Greg Hardy showed up."
He says dealing with his mom's death is a daily struggle.
"I'm trying to hold it together now. It's just going back to that time and experiencing that time with that emotional roller coaster when you kinda know who's behind you and who's not behind you," he said. "You kinda cut some of yourself off. That's why I say when she died I started living because that perception you had of certain people, it changes."
Williams said he didn't say anything about his feelings last year because he didn't want to disrespect the Panthers, despite how much it hurt him.
He also says he thinks the Panthers will do well in years to come.
"In that locker room, coaching staff and everything, my hat's off to them," he says. "They're going to do big things."