A four-time Pro Bowl pass-rusher with five double-digit-sack seasons is now a free agent in what should be the back end of his prime. So, what might the market look like for 31-year-old former No. 1 overall pick Mario Williams?
The bad news for Williams is his stock took a hell of a hit with that ugly 2015 campaign in Buffalo. The defensive end had just five sacks (tied for his lowest total since 2007, which was his second season in the league) despite starting 15 games. For the first time in his career, he forced zero fumbles. And he averaged just one tackle per game. In fact, Pro Football Focus graded him as the fifth-worst qualified 4-3 defensive end in football.
The good news is Williams still had 38 sacks in his previous three seasons, missing zero games during his first three years with the Bills. Considering the veteran complained about what new head coach Rex Ryan did to the defense and the fact there was a report he “totally checked out” in 2015, it’s possibly that Williams could return to his superstar self the moment he checks back in with a new team of his choice. Besides, only quarterbacks are as highly-valued as pass-rushers, especially after what Carolina and Denver (and particuarly Kony Ealy and Von Miller) did in Super Bowl 50.
Still, that type of behavior probably does more harm than good regarding Williams’ chances of landing another monster contract 10 seasons into his NFL career.
Thing is, Jason Pierre-Paul and Greg Hardy have their own baggage, Tamba Hali is even older and Von Miller has been hit with the franchise tag. So Williams might actually be the best edge-rusher in free agency. The only rusher I’d put ahead of him is Bruce Irvin, who is younger and has a higher ceiling at this point. But Irvin, who has only 22 career sacks, takes a backseat in the “body of work” department.
Who might be interested? I’d watch for the Cardinals and Colts, both of whom badly need pass-rushing help and love to bring in veteran leaders. The Jaguars, who ranked in the bottom 10 last year with a sack rate of 5.6 and possess a league-high $76 million in salary cap space, also make a ton of sense.
The Falcons, Giants, Titans, Bears and Rams, all of whom could be in pursuit of defensive playmakers and all of whom have plenty of cash to spend, would also appear to be good fits.
So the supply and demand dynamics favor Williams, who should cash in somewhere very soon.