Most talk about Buffalo acquiring Mario Williams has been dismissed on this board. I decided to check it out.
Houston's Defense. They certainly didn't miss Williams like everyone thought. Houston finished the season with the 4th best defense in the NFL. The Texans were 3rd best against the pass and 4th best against the run in the league. And they finished 6th in the league in sacks, despite their sack-master only playing five games - though it should be noted that five of Houston's 44 sacks came from Williams in those five game.
Williams' replacement, Connor Barwin, recorded a team high 11.5 sacks. The other outside linebacker Brooks Reed, sacked the quarterback six times. And the Texans have more than just two good outside linebackers to rush the quarterback: end Antonio Smith recorded 6.5 sacks and rookie J.J. Watt recorded 5.5 sacks.
All of which doesn't amount to anything, really, except to say that Houston is good without Williams. An argument can be made that the return of Williams could make this the best defense in the league. There are more factors to consider.
The Texans are one of the teams in the league that will have salary cap issues this off-season. Charley Casserly recently reported that the salary cap may not increase a significant amount. Houston entered last off-season $7.6 million under the cap, according to John Clayton, and were less than $1 million under the 2011 cap at the start of the season.
Houston only has one important UFA in center Chris Myers. They also have Arian Foster, who is restricted, but the money that he'll receiver is more important. Williams is going to want money that places him among the highest paid at his position, and he's making ~ $15 million now. Houston may be in for a Terrell Suggs -esque position fight with Williams, who stands to get more money as a defensive end than an outside linebacker, as the Texans list him. Houston might consider this move to create cap space to keep the team together in the future.
For those who think Williams won't move, consider the similarities between Williams and Jared Allen. Both entered contract years at 26 years old. Both were proven pass rushers entering their contract year. Both played for teams transitioning from 4-3 to 3-4 defenses. Kansas City franchised Allen in February of 2008, then sent him to Minnesota just prior to the draft. Minnesota sent a first round pick, two third round picks, and a 6th round pick to KC for Allen and a 6th round pick. While Kansas City has drafted Branden Albert and Jamaal Charles with those picks, I think Minnesota is happy with their deal.
Allen and Williams aren't that different. In Allen's first four seasons, all with the Chiefs, he recorded 9, 11, 7.5, and 15.5 sacks, respectively, for a total of 43 sacks. In Williams' first four seasons, all with the Texans, he recorded 4.5, 14, 12, and 9 sacks respectively, for a total of 39.5 sacks. Williams also has two more seasons, 2010 where he had 8.5 sacks, and this season, with 5 sacks in 5 games.
Could Buffalo, well under the cap, make a trade for Williams? It would free up cap space for the Texans, and add picks to continue to build what looks like the future dominant team in the AFC. The Texans have also proven that they can be great on defense without Williams. Buffalo might have to commit to a 4-3, but Williams would warrant that. And Buffalo might get what Minnesota had with Allen and the Williams Wall, in Williams-Williams-Dareus. It could be Buffalo's Williams Wall.
What to do? Buffalo could make this trade, if at all, at two points. It's all moot if Houston doesn't franchise him, but I think most people are in agreement that Houston will. So, would Nix make the trade prior to the draft, and forfeit the 10th pick? Or, does he play coy, and pull a Drew Bledsoe-trade move, waiting until after the draft and trading Buffalo's 2013 first rounder?