My comrade Darryl Ledbetter — you can follow his click-bait Tweets on Falcons cheerleaders at @DOrlandoAJC — has posted a blog suggesting that defensive end Mario Williams would be a fine player for the pass-rush-hungry Falcons to sign in free agency.
I understand D-Led’s logic. Williams has proven to be a very good player on days he wakes up and decides, “Today, I want to be a very good player.” This feeling comes and goes, like, “Today, I feel like eating a Pop Tart.”
Williams had 38 sacks over three seasons, from 2012-2014. But last season, playing for new Buffalo head coach Rex Ryan, who’s generally viewed as one of the better defensive coaches in football, Williams sulked about his role, publicly criticized Ryan’s scheme and spiraled to five sacks.
Here’s my view on Williams: He’s worth a phone call. A cheap phone call.
If Falcons coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff believe Williams can help their pass rush, they should decide what they believe the player is worth and then find out what he’ll be seeking. My guess: Those two figures will be far apart. (I’m also guessing Quinn and Dimitroff already have done this.) Williams isn’t worth anything remotely close to the $67.4 million (including signing bonus) he made in his four seasons in Buffalo. He’s also not worth his salaries from his final two seasons in Houston ($9.6 million and $13.8 million).
Williams is 31 years old. He has played 10 seasons. So the first question is: What does he have left? Because we’ve seen our share of overused and underwhelming free agent, veteran players in Atlanta. (I’ll spare you the recent ugly history.)
Ledbetter also references Williams as a potential “mentor” for Vic Beasley. That sounds great in theory. The problem is we’re talking about a player who often looked like he quit on his team last season, upset because Ryan chose to periodically drop him into coverage. Whether you agree with Ryan’s scheme or not, does Williams’ reaction sound like a team leader or potential mentor? Because to me it sounds like somebody more worried about his sack numbers.
As for the Falcons, yes, they need to significantly improve their pass rush. They rarely forced opposing quarterbacks off their spot last season and finished last in the NFL with 19 sacks. (Buffalo actually was just ahead of them with 21, at least in part because players like Williams started to tune out Ryan.) But despite the pass rush problems and a general lack of talent, Quinn and Falcons defensive coordinator Richard Smith still coached a defense that finished 17 in yards allowed and 19th in scoring.
My guess is the Falcons will continue to build the defense with mostly young players in the draft and some modestly priced free agent pickups like Seattle linebacker Bruce Irvin. The bulk of the free agent dollars should be spent on fixing the offensive line (specifically center) and possibly adding a tight end or wide receiver.
Williams is angry. That can be a good thing if he’s motivated to prove he can still play. He probably still has the ability to help the defense. But I doubt the term “role player” fits into his equation right now, and his equation likely will have more zeros on it than the Falcons are willing to pay.
So make the call. But proceed with caution.
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