Mario Williams is entering the third year of a record-breaking six-year, $96 million contract that he signed with the Buffalo Bills in March of 2012. He is coming off of a 13-sack, Pro Bowl campaign in which he pocketed at least $15.4 million, and is scheduled to earn at least another $13 million this season. Williams is probably the most easily recognizable name and face on the team at the moment, and is a bona fide star in the NFL.
In that light, I believe it is important to defend my contention that he is merely the sixth-most important player to the Bills as they attempt to end their playoff drought in 2014. (Or, rather, the fifth-most important, now that the fourth-most important player, Kiko Alonso, is out for the season.)
Williams is an eight-year veteran, making 2014 his ninth as a pro. At 29 years old, he is squarely in the prime of his career, and given that he has accumulated 23.5 sacks in his two seasons with the Bills, he is also clearly a very good football player. He remains the centerpiece of the defense insofar as how his presence affects the ways opponents game plan. But the book on Williams is written; he's a unique athlete, an every-down presence, and a high-quality pass rusher and run defender that has stretches without production that make some fans question his work ethic and play-to-play desire. That is who Williams is, and will be for the rest of his career.
This is the thing: Williams has a playoff drought of his own going. The only time the Houston Texans made the playoffs in his six years with the team that drafted him No. 1 overall was in 2011, when Williams was on Injured Reserve after Week 5 with a torn pectoral muscle. Williams has therefore never appeared in a playoff game. Aside from the quarterback position, one player isn't going to carry a team to the postseason. Williams was paid like that type of player, but he isn't, and it's extremely rare that defenders are.
Buffalo has a legitimate chance to end their playoff drought, and Williams' with it. They also have a chance to continue their improvements defensively to the point where they're considered one of the better units in the league. If either (or, ideally, both) of those things happen, it will not be because Williams suddenly morphed into a Reggie White type impact player; it'll be because younger, highly skilled talents developed into the kind of consistent, quality force that Williams already is. That's why less experienced and, for now, less productive players are going to show up ahead of Williams on this list.
Which shouldn't diminish how good Williams is, and how important a role he's going to play in any turnaround the team can pull off this season. He's still the centerpiece of the defense. He is, at the moment, the face of the franchise. If the Bills do end their playoff drought in 2014, you can safely bet that Williams will have played a huge role in finally getting the franchise over the hump.
This post continues a series in which we'll discuss the ten most important Bills players entering the new season. We'll update this list each time a new entry in the series posts.
1. coming July 18
2. coming July 16
3. coming July 14
4. LB Kiko Alonso:(
5. coming July 11
6. DE Mario Williams
7. OT Cordy Glenn
8. DB Aaron Williams
9. DT Kyle Williams
10. RB C.J. Spiller
11. DE Jerry Hughes