Most conversations about Buffalo Bills defensive end Mario Williams either center around his contract, or eventually incorporate the massive amounts of money that the Bills have both paid and still owe him.
But let's forget about money for a minute, and just talk about what Williams has accomplished on the field in his first three seasons with the Bills. He has accumulated 38 sacks. That's the highest number of quarterback take-downs that a Bills defender has mustered in three seasons since first-ballot Hall of Fame pass rusher Bruce Smith did it in 1995-7. Williams also hit the double-digit sack mark in each of those three seasons, the first Bill to accomplish that since - you guessed it - Smith pulled it off in 1996-8.
Williams' 38 sacks rank sixth - sixth - in Bills franchise history. Only five Bills players have more sacks in a Buffalo uniform than Williams: Smith (171 in 15 seasons), Aaron Schobel (78 in nine seasons), Phil Hansen (61.5 in 11 seasons), Cornelius Bennett (52.5 in nine seasons), and Darryl Talley (38.5 in 12 seasons). Note how long it took each of those five players to reach their respective totals, particularly from Schobel down. It's very fair to consider Williams the second-most prolific sack artist in Bills franchise history. He's not done yet.
Those 38 sacks are also the fourth-highest total in the NFL by any individual over that three-year span. J.J. Watt (51.5 sacks), Justin Houston (43), and Robert Quinn (40) are the only three players that have more.
Which (briefly) brings us back to money. Watt signed an eight-year deal with $51.8 million guaranteed. Houston just inked a six-year deal with $52.5 million guaranteed. Quinn signed a comparatively pedestrian four-year deal that still contained a whopping $41.27 million guaranteed. The six-year deal with $50 million guaranteed that Williams signed three and a half years ago? It's in line with his sack-artist peers, even if there is evidence that Williams is not quite as disruptive as those players (and he isn't).
Williams has made the Pro Bowl in each of the last two seasons, and 2014 earned him his first All-Pro first team selection. He's the most productive pass rusher on a defense that has sacked quarterbacks 111 times in the last two seasons, finished in the Top 5 as a team defense a year ago, and is expected to continue to improve under the guidance of new head coach Rex Ryan.
All of that is to say that Williams has been exactly the type of productive defensive lineman that the Bills paid him to be. You're free to consider him overpaid if you like; it's not hard to arrive at that conclusion. But don't let that cloud the fact that Williams is a damn fine football player, and a linchpin for one of the NFL's best defenses - and the league's best pass-rushing defensive line.
It's July now. We're four months past the point where money is all that anyone following the NFL can talk about. Our focus is now turning back toward the field. The 2015 Bills have a clear identity in mind: they want to control tempo and run early and often on offense, they want to play rock-solid special teams, and they want to make opposing offenses miserable with their talented and aggressive defense. That mindset puts Mario Williams at the forefront of the team's identity in 2015, and the 30-year-old edge rusher will be counted on to continue his elite-level production at tackling the other team's quarterback.