The Buffalo Bills play their final game of the 2015 regular season on Sunday against the New York Jets. There is a very distinct possibility that it might also be the last time we see Mario Williams in a Bills uniform.
Williams, the 30-year-old pass rusher that made two Pro Bowls in his first three years with the Bills and was a first team All-Pro just a year ago, is having a bad season. For a bit of perspective: in his All-Pro year of 2014, Williams recorded 14.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and 42 tackles while playing 788 snaps on defense. This year, his first playing for Rex Ryan, Williams has actually seen more playing time - he's at 830 snaps with one game to play - but has just four sacks and 17 tackles on the year. In Sunday's win over Dallas, he played 54 snaps and did not make the stat sheet.
On numerous occasions this year - from all the way back in October, to again within just the past two weeks - Williams has openly criticized Ryan's defense and his (and others') fit in it. His own teammates have grown frustrated with his frequent complaints. Reports exist that Williams wants out.
Williams has not been the only disappointing aspect of Buffalo's defense this season - not by a long shot. 2015 will be the first time that a Ryan-coached defense has finished outside of the Top 12 in the NFL in yards allowed since he took over as the defensive coordinator in Baltimore in 2005 (the Bills are currently No. 20 in that category). Their 20 team sacks are the lowest total in the NFL aside from Atlanta's 19, a staggering change from the league-leading 54 they recorded last year. The team has played without the services of several starters for long stretches (losing Kyle Williams, Nigel Bradham, Stephon Gilmore, and Aaron Williams has been particularly difficult to overcome), and big-money players like Marcell Dareus (a Pro Bowl alternate) and Jerry Hughes have seen their production dip drastically, as well. Williams' comments have not been universally well-received, but he may have a point.
A large number of Bills fans have spent the better part of the last month and a half calling for Ryan's head, but with just one year gone on his five-year deal, it's exceedingly unlikely that he'll be going anywhere. The same is true for his defense. In the very likely event Ryan stays, the Bills will probably be performing a facelift to their defensive personnel this offseason.
Williams has two years left on the six-year, $96 million contract he signed as a free agent back in March of 2012. He is owed a $2.5 million roster bonus, a $1.6 million option bonus, and a $500,000 workout bonus in 2016, on top of his $11.5 million base salary (per Spotrac.com). With a $19.9 million salary cap charge and his dead money figure down to $7 million this late in his deal, the Bills can save $12.9 million against the cap by releasing Williams, in addition to the $4.6 million in cash bonus payments outlined above. Williams is a good - often great - football player, but that's a lot of cheddar for a guy coming off a down year and who has openly questioned the coaching staff.
For the sake of this discussion, let's set aside our feelings about what Ryan's scheme has done to the defense in the standings, and focus on the reality of the situation: the Bills, running Ryan's defense, have a decision to make on Williams. Should they keep him around and see if he can rebound in 2016, or cut him loose and spend that $12.9 million in cap room in other places?