Mario Williams may have been overshadowed for the last five seasons by the fearsome Indianapolis pass-rush duo of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, but the quarterbacks of the AFC South know better than to ignore him. In his Monday Morning Quarterback column today, Peter King suggested that the Texans might just let Williams walk in free agency, despite GM Rick Smith recently saying that re-signing the pass-rusher to a long-term contract was a “top priority”. Under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips in 2011, the Texans converted to the 3-4 defense and evolved from the #30 overall defense in 2010 (#32, dead last, against the pass) to the #2 overall defense and #3 versus the pass despite being without Mario Williams for the final 11 games of the season. Will the Texans part ways with the #1 overall pick of the 2006 draft? And if so, should the Jaguars pursue him? Find out after the jump…
Will the Texans let Mario Williams walk?
I believe they will, despite Rick Smith’s “GMspeak”. The Texans made a seamless, one-year transition to Wade Phillips’ 3-4 design and frankly, Williams just doesn’t fit in this scheme. He’s such a freakish athlete that he could likely succeed in any scheme and at any position, but the 3-4 doesn’t capitalize on any of Mario’s strengths. The down linemen of a 3-4 are typically shorter, squatter types that are basically supposed to occupy blockers while the linebackers make plays. Williams is strong enough to succeed at this role, but that’s not exactly ideal use of a guy who’s 6’7″, 280lbs and ran a 4.66 at the Combine. How about at OLB, where Mario played for the five games he played in this year before going down with a pectoral tear? These guys are typically the “tweeners” – college DE’s who don’t have the size to play 4-3 DE in the pros and have the ability to drop back in coverage. The Texans don’t ask him to drop in coverage and he has an abundance of size for the position – so again, not a great fit. There’s just not a position in the 3-4 defense that maximizes all Williams has to offer. You can never have too much talent on your team, but does it make sense to give Williams the pricey and long-term contract he will demand, given the emergence of younger OLB’s Brooks Reed (rookie) and Conner Barwin (3rd year), who are both ideological fits for the position and will together be playing in 2012 for roughly 1/5th of Mario Williams’ yearly price? Letting Mario sign with another team is also a safe bet to net a high supplemental pick in the 2013 draft, likely no lower than a 3rd or 4th rounder.
The Case AGAINST Mario Williams:
- Cost: Last year, the two biggest DE signings were Ray Edwards (5 years, $30 million) and Charles Johnson (6 years, $76 million, $30 million guaranteed). Williams is a similar age and has a higher pedigree than either of those guys. His contract will likely be for close to $15 million/year with plenty of guarantees.
- Injury: Mario is coming off a nasty pectoral tear, the same injury that took out fellow elite pass rushers Elvis Dummervil in 2010 and Michael Strahan in 2004. Dummervil didn’t register a sack until November, but finished the year strong with 9.5. Strahan also returned to double-digit sacks in the season following his injury.
- Declining numbers: Williams highest sack total was in his second season, 2007, when he racked up 14.0 sacks. He’s decline each year since, posting 12.0 in 2008, 9.0 in 2009, 8.5 in 2010, and 5.0 in (a shortened) 2011.
- GM Gene’s Strategy: Gene likes to “patch” in free agency and build his team through the draft. Signing Williams to a monster contract (he won’t be coming at a discount) would go against this strategy.
The Case FOR Mario Williams:
- Ideal 4-3 fit: Mario Williams is the DREAM MOLD (way better than the stuff that grows on an old loaf of bread) of a 4-3 defensive end. Ideal height. Ideal size. Can rush with the best of them and plenty of size and meanness to stop the run. 4.7 speed. Long arms, big hands. Explosive first step. When God designs 4-3 pass-rushers, this is what they look like.
- Upward arrow: Williams was putting up beastly numbers before he went down in 2011. Granted, this was as an OLB in the 3-4, but this was arguably his first year with legitimate surrounding cast. Given that the Jaguars resign Jeremy Mincey, there will be plenty of young talent along the line to spread out the blockers.
- Age/Wear: Williams is only 26 years old and despite the season-ending injury, many players have had little problem coming back from pec tears in the next season and this is much different than a knee-injury, which would likely permanently affect his effectiveness (speed/explosion). Despite his sack number declining, this isn’t the only measure of his effectiveness. He is constantly harassing opposing QB’s and has become a player other teams MUST gameplan for.
- GM Gene’s Strategy: Signing a 26 year old premier talent at a premier position (4-3 DE) is not even an opportunity that comes along that often in free agency. Guys like this don’t normally get away from the team that drafted them, but in this case, the circumstances in Houston might just pan out that way. This is different than overpaying for a “big name” veteran who’s passed his peak and is entering his twilight years. Mario Williams is still the kind of player you can build a team around.
You’ve seen the case. Do you think the Texans will let Williams walk? Should the Jaguars sign him?
- Andrew Hofheimer