Mario Williams is now a free agent for the second time in his career, as the Buffalo Bills released him on Tuesday, saving themselves $12.9 million in the process. The 31-year-old Williams will hit the market as a valuable commodity, as he was an All-Pro in 2014, before a coaching change in Buffalo.
Williams tallied just 5.0 sacks in 2015 and was a terrible fit for Rex Ryan’s system, but in the previous three years he notched 10-plus sacks. Unfortunately, that doesn’t bode well for Williams’ future.
In NFL history the only other players to notch 10-plus sacks each year during their age 27 to 29 years, then average less than 0.5 sacks per game during their age-30 year all wound up falling off dramatically.
History says if a player is good before 30, then bad at 30, he won’t recover. Of those who qualify only Neil Smith – who signed with Denver, then made a Pro Bowl and won a Super Bowl – had what would be a successful career after that point. Cole was a disappointment in Indianapolis last year, Mark Gastineau was finished, and Little hung around as the Rams’ franchise went into the tank in St. Louis.
While Williams may suffer that same fate, he does have something to offer teams. He can still get things done and is a positive presence in an NFL locker room. Here’s a look at five teams who could use him.
Pete Carroll and company always seem to be in on veterans with something in the tank who want to chase a title. Williams is a respected veteran who could slide right into an already solid locker room and make it even better.
With the Seahawks, Williams wouldn’t have to shoulder all the responsibility of getting to the quarterback alone. With Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril already in the fold, Carroll and defensive coordinator Kris Richard could get creative with how they mix their fronts.
Bruce Irvin is a free agent and almost certainly won’t be back in Seattle. That opens the door for a guy like Williams to go after a ring.
New England Patriots
That said, the Patriots actually need a guy like Williams. In 2015 Chandler Jones had 12.5 sacks, and New England ranked second in the NFL in sacks as a team (49), but the pressure was inconsistent at times. Williams would give Belichick another weapon off the edge to deploy how he saw fit.
Obviously Williams would have to play for far less cash than he could get on the open market, but playing under Belichick and being surrounded by a ton of talent might just be worth it.
The Greg Hardy experiment was a public relations disaster for Dallas and we keep hearing that he is done with the Cowboys. If that’s true, Williams could be the perfect guy to replace him. Remember, he spent the first six years of his career in Texas with Houston, and knows the area.
Dallas’ best pass rusher in 2015 was DeMarcus Lawrence (8.0 sacks), but he just underwent serious back surgery and it could be a long recovery. As a team, the Cowboys finished 25th in the NFL in sacks (31) and opposing signal-callers were comfortable enough to post a quarterback rating of 94.2. They desperately need help off the edge.
The Cowboys need some kind of identity on defense and could use a serious dose of leadership as well. Williams could help provide both.
New Orleans Saints
Cameron Jordan is a 26-year-old stud at defensive end, but he can’t do it alone. In 2015 he had 10.0 sacks and made his second Pro Bowl, but as a team the Saints managed just 31 sacks. Their pass defense was more of an abstract concept than an actual thing that existed, as opposing signal-callers carved them up for 4,544 yards and a 116.2 quarterback rating.
Jordan needs someone to help him and the team as a whole needs to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. It’s laughable how bad the Saints were defensively last year, and even if Williams doesn’t put up All-Pro numbers, he’ll elevate the unit with his expectations for everyone else.
The Saints desperately need a defensive turnaround, and Williams could be a key piece of that puzzle.
While the Cardinals had an impressive defensive front in 2015, they ranked just 20th in the NFL in sacks (36) despite having one of the best pass defenses in the league. The team’s leader in sacks was Dwight Freeney (yes, he’s still playing) with 8.0, but Freeney also only had nine total tackles on the season. So he’s a bit of a one-trick pony. And an old one at that.
Freeney is a free agent and might not be back in Arizona, which makes Williams even more attractive. He’s younger, far more explosive and would give the Cardinals someone who could consistently get into opposing backfields.
Arizona had a great defense in 2015, but they need to keep getting better up front. Bringing in Williams while adding some depth in the draft would be an ideal way to beef up the front seven. The Cardinals aren’t far from being a championship-level team, Williams could help them get there.