Mario Williams: Perception vs. Reality

Every Bills fan knows the story: On March 15th, 2012 the Buffalo Bills signed free agent defensive end Mario Williams to a 6 year, $96 million deal ($50m guaranteed). It was one exciting offseason wasn’t it?

(Photo by AP)
(Photo by AP)

Unfortunately, the prosperity was short-lived. On Sunday, September 9th after an offseason of hope and excitement, the Bills were outclassed 48-28 by a bad New York Jets team. The new defense was embarrassed by a starting offense that was “blanked” in the 2012 preseason. Who was to blame for this debacle? Well despite there being 10 other players on a defense, the unit’s highest paid player, Mario Williams, was the easy and obvious target.

Journeyman right tackle Austin Howard for the Jets was consistently left on an island vs. Mario at his left defensive end position. Howard dominated Williams, who had just one tackle. After the game the Bills defensive end complained about Howard being a “hands to the face guy” and hinted at an injury to his wrist. The league wide perception was that the Bills had signed the next Albert Haynesworth. The guy couldn’t accept being dominated by a no-name offensive tackle and was grasping for straws with “dirty play” and an “injury” as excuses. The climax of the negativity was Rodney Harrison mocking our entire franchise on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.” And this was just the beginning!

The defense continued to struggle as a unit and Mario continued to bring up his wrist. Talking heads everywhere downplayed the injury because he wasn’t on the injury report. It turned out that Mario’s wrist injury wasn’t an excuse and he had essentially been playing with one hand. However, for some reason former head coach Chan Gailey had mysteriously left it off the weekly injury reports. Now as every Bills fan knows, this is the same coach that refused to give his best offensive player the ball, but this particular mistake didn’t cost the Bills W’s, it cost them twenty thousand dollars as the Bills were then fined for violating NFL’s policy on reporting injuries. The authenticity of Mario’s injury was further proven as he made a drastic improvement after his bye week surgery. Unfortunately for Mario though, the Bills were back to their usual state of irrelevance by that point and few took notice.

One outlet that did eventually take notice was profootballfocus.com, a popular football analytics website. In their recent 32 teams in 32 days segment they highlighted the Buffalo Bills and one of their top 5 reasons for Bills fans to be optimistic about 2013 was, in fact, Mario Williams. The analysis also brought up an interesting point not regarding his injury, but also regarding his role in the defense under everybody’s favorite (come on, say that with a straight face) defensive coordinator, Dave Wannstedt. It highlighted how he was more effective once Wannstedt finally moved him around rather than just lining Mario up at left defensive end every play. It wasn’t nearly as insulting to Wannstedt as Yahoo Sports’ Jason Cole’s comments, but still even more reasoning for Mario’s “lack of production” in 2012.

(Photo by Nick de la Torre/Houston Chronicle)
(Photo by Nick de la Torre/Houston Chronicle)
Photo lifted from WaterCoolerSportsNetwork.com
(Photo lifted from WaterCoolerSportsNetwork.com)

Despite the wrist injury and bad coaching, Williams still managed to sack opposing quarterbacks 10.5 times last season. This happens to be 3.5 more sacks than Julius Peppers had after signing his mega deal for Chicago in 2010. Julius is widely considered as one of the NFL’s top pass rushers and never faced this kind of criticism. This is probably because he plays on a good defense.

The perception is that the Buffalo Bills made a bad investment for Mario Williams. They desperately over paid for a decent, but not elite NFL player, and he had an awful 2012 campaign. The reality is that the Bills overpaid because that’s what happens in free agency, they finally got an elite player, he played well when healthy, and if he stays healthy he is poised for a big 2013.