Back in 2012, the San Diego Chargers were dead-set on signing free agent pass-rusher Mario Williams.
The team was coming off a season where their only successful pass-rusher was Antwan Barnes (11 sacks), who they found on top of the garbage pile, and they were hoping to keep teams from being able to focus their attention on stopping Barnes. The team was also hoping to move Shaun Phillips back to the role of a backup after a season where he racked up just 3.5 sacks.
Williams was set to meet with the Chargers, who were prepared to throw the kitchen sink at him to sign, but never got on the plane to San Diego after landing in Buffalo. A six-year deal was signed, and the Bills thought they were getting the best pass-rusher in the league.
(The Chargers went with their backup plan, which was signing Jarret Johnson, and it led to a very good run defense but a very beatable pass rush.)
Fast-forward four years and most Bills fans would tell you that the signing has been a mistake. Williams has not been the best pass-rusher in the league during his time in Buffalo, although he was quite effective until last season when Rex Ryan came in, and now the team has released him to whoever else in the NFL wants to give him a shot.
An optimist would say that Williams just wasn't a fit for Ryan's system and could once again be counted on for 10+ sacks wherever he lands. A pessimist would say, at 31 years old, that Mario Williams is on the decline and will be overpaid by whichever team signs him now.
(It's worth noting that in his last six seasons, Mario Williams has played for six different Defensive Coordinators.)
The market value for a guy of Williams' age and talents is about $7 million in salary per year, and he'll likely get offers for 4 and 5 years. Stop thinking about "incentive-laden contracts" and think about how much this guy is worth around the league, because that is what he will get paid by someone.
At 30 years old, Cameron Wake got a 5-year contract worth $17m in guaranteed money and upwards of $33m. Something like that is what it will take to get Williams. Mario won't get the $100m offers again, like he did four years ago.
Brian Orakpo got about $8m per year last offseason, but he was a couple years younger than Williams is now.
(Before you ask, the Chargers have about $32 million in cap space this offseason.)
Vote in the poll below on if you would offer Williams to a market value contract, 4-5 years at about $7 million per year, to bring him to the Chargers.
My Take: At 6'6" and 290 lbs, Mario Williams is essentially Joey Bosa with 30 lbs of muscle added to him (or, another way of looking at it is that Williams is the same size as J.J. Watt). He's played 4-3 DE and 3-4 OLB, and he's been effective at both. If Melvin Ingram isn't in the team's long-term plans, and there are plenty of people inside of the Chargers front office that will tell you that he's not (sorry, that's one burden of being A.J. Smith's final first-round draft pick), a Mario Williams signing makes too much sense.
Williams could come in and right away fill a need along the defensive line and as a pass-rusher. He would essentially provide the same level of depth and talent that the team is hoping to find in the early rounds of the 2016 NFL Draft. This would free up that pick to use elsewhere on this depleted roster.
If the Chargers are bringing back Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates, and Brandon Flowers....then they're hoping to get into the Playoffs and cause some havoc this season. They're hoping that their young core (Melvin Gordon, Denzel Perryman, Jason Verrett, Keenan Allen, etc.) continue to progress, but they also want to win right now. Mario Williams helps them get closer to that goal. He also helps to hide the holes in the secondary by being a consistent threat to the QB.
In an ideal world, you could see Williams on the field at the same time as Ingram and Jerry Attaochu in obvious passing situations. At least two of those guys would see one-on-one matchups, which means bad news for the opposing team trying to convert a 3rd & long.
Signing Mario Williams is a little short-sighted, but that's where the Chargers are right now. If they want to win now, they'll need a terrorizing front seven (just look at the Broncos and Panthers). Mario Williams stands a good chance of getting them to that point, and leaves draft picks on the table to help at O-Line, WR, DB, etc. I'd pay the market-value price and bring him to San Diego.
I think it was in the last Squadcast podcast that I said the successful teams are the ones that get great value out of the contracts they sign with 30+ year old veterans, not the ones that get great value out of the contracts they sign with 25 year old superstars, and Williams fits nicely into that way of thinking.