"If a guy's there in free agency that fits what we need, we're going to be aggressive." - Buddy Nix. January 9, 2012.
The Buffalo Bills signed 2006 top overall pick Mario Williams - one of the most talented and coveted free agent commodities in recent memory - to a six-year, $100 million contract with $50 million guaranteed on Thursday. The move is being touted as a game-changer for the franchise - one that provides hope and relevance for an organization currently riding the NFL's longest streak of seasons without a playoff berth. At a bare minimum, the Bills are significantly better at a position that was by far their weakest area on the roster. We won't know the "at maximum" for a while, but it's running in various forms through the minds of Bills fans today, without question.
Say what you will about the impact of the signing, and what it means for the organization, for the city and for the fan base. That's been the thrust of the post-signing rhetoric to this point. The most jarring part of this story is that the Bills executed an uncharacteristically aggressive plan with remarkable precision.
Think about what the Bills were able to accomplish this week. They kept a guy that a half-dozen teams would've loved to meet in person in and around One Bills Drive for nearly 48 full hours before his contract was signed. He did not make any other visits. From what Williams divulged at his introductory press conference, he enjoyed every aspect of his unusually long free agent visit, which included a private jet, an hours-long chat with a star player, a chartered flight for a bride-to-be, a sit-down with a legendary quarterback at his home, and an unprecedented financial commitment.
Think harder about what it took to even get to that point. It didn't take a rocket scientist to realize that Williams was exactly the type of player the team needed on the field, but it was a stroke of genius to understand who Williams is as a person, then cater to his personality to sell him on the idea of playing for a team with a reputation like Buffalo's. What the Bills accomplished was not easy at all, even if Williams is sort of perfect for a region, a city and a team like this. It took a while to close the deal, but the deal was closed, and that's a feat.
Yes. Things are changing. That's the big story, and it's appealing on several levels. The perception of the Buffalo Bills has changed in many ways, but the most significant change has got to be that the team knows what it wants, what it needs, and, for once, has proven that it can do what it takes to get it. That does not happen often here. If they can translate that success into some wins - which isn't the stretch it seemed like just this past weekend - we could really have something brewing.
"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. ... the contract Super Mario would require would be an astonishingly unprecedented move for this organization." - Some Galliford guy. February 16, 2012.
Yeah. I wrote an article in mid-February that, looking back on it now, only just stopped short of chastising fans for thinking that the Bills landing Williams was even a remote possibility. I don't think I was overly disrespectful - and I acknowledged that a pursuit was not out of the question - but my position was clear. I did not expect the Bills to pursue Williams, and the reasons were purely financial.
Seriously: if someone wants to prepare a crow recipe, I'll gladly consume it. Tens of thousands of you could join me, but I've got no problem being the honorary crow-eater for the massive contingent of Bills fans that are shocked right now.
It's hard to imagine, however, that even the staunchest optimists in this fan base aren't surprised to some degree. Calvin Johnson, Michael Vick (twice), Larry Fitzgerald, Carson Palmer, Donovan McNabb, Ben Roethlisberger, Albert Haynesworth and Brett Favre are the only players in NFL history to sign contracts worth $100 million. That's eight players and nine contracts. Mario Williams became the ninth player yesterday. His was the tenth $100 million deal in league history. That makes the Bills payees of one of the ten richest contracts in the history of professional football. They're already the payees of the richest contract ever handed out to a defender. It's almost unfathomable.
Consider also this tidbit from Andrew Brandt, which will ultimately prove to be far more relevant than the $100 million figure: the $50 million in guaranteed money in Williams' deal represents a 19 percent increase over the $42 million in guarantees given to the now second-highest-paid defender in NFL history, Julius Peppers. Not only are the Bills doing unprecedented things, they're doing them with verve. When was the last time the Bills did anything with verve - especially with money?
"You guys never believe - you don't listen, or you don't believe what we say anyway - but my point is, we've said from day one, if there's a guy there that we think can make the difference, we'll be aggressive and go after the guy." - Nix. March 15, 2012.
We always listened, Buddy. The problem wasn't a lack of listening; if anything, it was listening too closely. It was listening with over a decade of middling effort and middling-at-best results fueling our inclination to read between the lines. At least for me, that's no longer the case. There's no longer a reason to not take what comes from the collective mouths of this organization at face value, even if a March signing doesn't mean the mediocrity will end on the field.
We believe - not just because the deal was completed, but because of the way it happened, the aggression of the move in theory and financially, and the outstanding execution. At some point, we'll take a step back and talk ourselves down a little bit, realizing that one player can't turn a 10-22 team into a playoff contender. For now, we'll embrace the change. We'll allow ourselves to feel the hope, and we'll believe that for once, we may actually be rewarded for said belief.