Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers is sacked by linebacker Mario Williams #90 of the Houston Texans. (Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images)
If you've been reading BFTB over the last few weeks, you're probably aware that I'm enamored with Mario Williams. The Houston Texans Defensive End-turned-Outside Linebacker is an unrestricted free agent and is one of the few players available that could completely turn a defense around.
The San Diego Chargers' most glaring hole is at pass-rusher, and it's a hole they need to plug immediately if A.J. Smith and/or Norv Turner want to keep their job. Williams seems to be the best way to do that, even if Smith has shied away from big-ticket free agents in the past. Let's go through the basics....
I honestly had no idea that he went to NC State (like Philip Rivers!). Nor did I know that I am 13 days older than Mario. All good info. At his size, he's one of the largest OLBs in the league. However, the same freakish athleticism that made him the #1 overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft keeps that extra size from holding him back at all.
After the jump, we'll go a little deeper into his stats and get an update on the Chargers chances of landing Williams in free agency.
Mario Williams has recorded 53 sacks in 82 games since entering the NFL, or 0.64 sacks per game. If you take out his rookie season, where defensive linemen never really stand out, he has 48.5 sacks in just 66 games (or 0.73 sacks per game). In his first season as a 3-4 OLB, he racked up 5 sacks in just 5 games before tearing his pectoral muscle and missing the remainder of the season.
Before the days of the rookie wage scale, Williams signed a six-year deal with the Texans as a rookie for $54 million that paid him $18 million in 2011. If he were to get franchised, he would get a one-year deal for roughly $22.5 million. The Texans will not franchise him because they don't have anywhere near that cap room, and they're still trying to figure out how they can reconfigure their roster to a point where they can make Williams a fair offer. That might be taking too big of a risk, though.
The good news, for the Texans and the Chargers, is that Williams is not intent on becoming the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL.
"I'm not worried about that," Williams said Thursday. "It's really not that big of a deal to me. I was the first pick (in 2006), and I've already had everything I really wanted, so my biggest thing is to be in a good position, a good scheme, a good system and continuing my career. Hopefully, it works out.
"It's always important to be in a position to be successful. That comes with teammates around you, coaching, having that winning attitude. You want to (play) where you can thrive no matter where you are."
"I'm not focused on telling my agent, ‘Hey, do this or do that because I want to be the highest-paid (defensive) player,' " Williams said. "It's whatever fits best for myself and the team.
In a nutshell, Mario is signing where he believe he will be happiest and have the best chance to succeed. However, it needs to make financial sense (his agent will make sure of that). I think Vincent Jackson is going about free agency in the same way, which is the right way, but unfortunately the Chargers need a pass-rusher more than they need a wide receiver this offseason.
The Texans are projected to have around $3 and $4 million in cap space this offseason. With Williams most likely scheduled to earn around $20 million in the first year of his deal, they're almost out of the picture to sign him.
The Chargers are scheduled to have around $9 and 10 million in cap space, but a lot of that depends on Kris Dielman, Marcus McNeill and others. If those two don't come back (Dielman because he might retire and McNeill because the Chargers could void his contract) and Luis Castillo restructures his contract, San Diego could have more than $20 million in cap space.
Williams' agent will probably be looking for something similar to what the Chicago Bears gave Julius Peppers (6 years, $84 million), if not a little more considering Williams is three years younger than Peppers was when he signed that. The good news is that a six or seven-year deal is not a bad investment for Williams, considering that Perppers himself (along with others) have shown that a pass-rusher in his early 30s can still be very effective.
San Diego could serve as an attractive option to Williams. If the Dielman, McNeill and Castillo things fall the right(?) way, the team should have enough cap room to be one of the top bidders for Mario. Obviously, the location is one of the most desirable in the country and the team still seems like it's one strong pass-rusher away from returning back to being a contender for the AFC Championship.
We'll see how things shake out, but for now it appears that Mario Williams will hit the open market....even if that's not his first choice.