I have been blogging here about the Buffalo Bills for five years. That's a long time to do anything. In my time doing this, I have never been questioned about a non-Bills player more often in a short period of time than I have about Houston Texans free agent defensive end Mario Williams in the past week.
The questions on everyone's minds: is Williams really going to leave Houston? And would the Bills actually have a shot at signing him if he did?
My opinion, stated as plainly as possible: yes, there is a good chance Williams hits the open market, but it's not the slam dunk everyone seems to think it is. Houston wants Williams back - why wouldn't they? - and Williams by all accounts would like to continue playing for Wade Phillips. The problem, of course, is that the $21.99 million franchise tag requirement precludes the Texans from tagging Williams; they'll either re-sign him prior to March 13 (a Herculean feat to accomplish without considerable help from Williams), or watch him become the most heavily-recruited free agent on the year, and perhaps even in the history of the NFL.
Let's assume that Williams does, in fact, hit the open market. If that happens, John McClain of the Houston Chronicle is expecting Williams to receive contract offers that contain at least $50 million in guarantees, thanks to an abundance of teams with ridiculous amounts of cap room such as the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (Both teams have more than $60 million in space to use however they wish.)
In the 2011 calendar year, the Bills handed out two of the richest contracts they'd ever given to players. In re-signing quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and defensive tackle Kyle Williams, the Bills guaranteed the two players a combined $41 million. Marcell Dareus' rookie contract guaranteed his $20.4 million contract in full; combined with Fitzpatrick's $24 million guaranteed, not even Fitzpatrick and Dareus - a Top 3 pick - can equal the guarantees Williams is expected to receive.
Bills fans, do you really believe that the Bills would be willing to put forth a competitive offer for Williams on the open market? I ask that question without a hint of condescension; I'm just looking for any hint of what Bills fans are seeing that I'm not. Fitzpatrick's franchise-record contract was a $59 million deal - and there's a very real chance he won't earn a great deal of that if he doesn't last the full length of the agreement. Fitzpatrick is a quarterback, folks. Do people really believe that the Bills would offer a quarterback-level contract, fully guaranteed, to any player that didn't play that position?
In fairness, much of the conversation surrounding Williams and the Bills - which was mostly non-existent for quite a while - has been fueled by SI's Don Banks, who wrote a week ago today that the Bills might be a team "that could come after Williams and make it very difficult" for them to retain Williams. That piqued the interest of several fans, but it's virtually certain that Banks was merely pointing out the obvious - that the Bills need a pass-rusher - and was not reporting that they'd pursue him.
Sure, the Bills have said that they'll be aggressive in trying to address the team's decade-plus-long pass-rushing issue. First: talk is cheap. Second: they've also said that they plan on taking a fiscal approach to free agency, re-signing their own players, and finding their true building blocks in the draft. We've covered point No. 3 above - the contract Super Mario would require would be an astonishingly unprecedented move for this organization.
Every time I make this point off-blog, I'm offered the "but if ever they were going to break the bank, this is the guy to do it for!" rebuttal. And I don't necessarily disagree; I just think it's irrelevant. Williams is poised to make crazy money precisely because he's worth it on an NFL open market. Of course signing Williams would make sense for the Bills from an on-field perspective. (Through that lens, signing Williams makes sense for 100 percent of NFL teams.) It's just that, having watched the team for so long, it's almost laughable that some Bills fans are even entertaining the idea that this is in the realm of possibility. All the power to those of you who are choosing to get your hopes up, believing that this might be the year that the team gets aggressive and makes a big splash. History offers no indication that your wishes will become reality.
I've also done this long enough, and been a fan long enough, to know that nothing is impossible. But I'll believe that the Bills will seriously compete for an available Williams' services when I see it. I'm not even remotely expecting to be writing about it come mid-March.