NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko
With the deadline for placing the franchise tag on players passing last night, the actual free agent class has become much more clear. This year the most prolific player to escape the franchise tag is Houston Texans DE/OLB Mario Williams.
Williams is one of the best pass rushers in the NFL and still just entering the prime of his career. What are the chances that Williams could land in New England and would the Patriots really be willing to spend the money to secure him?
Here’s my take:
While it is out of character for the New England Patriots to go out and spend big time money in free agency, there are specific examples of the team spending money on the top available pass rusher on the free agent market.
In 2003, the Patriots shelled out a long term contract and money to a 25 year old OLB from the Chicago Bears named Rosevelt Colvin. In 2007, the Patriots signed Baltimore Ravens OLB Adalius Thomas, who was widely considered the top free agent available on the market to a long term deal. Both of these circumstances are very similar.
In each case the Patriots were considered very close to being a legitimate Super Bowl contender. The 2002 the Patriots had a Super Bowl hangover and missed the playoffs, due to a shaky defense and a poor pass rush. In 2006, the Patriots came extremely close to going to the Super Bowl, blowing a 21-3 lead in the AFC Championship game to the Indianapolis Colts.
In both cases, Bill Belichick went out that off season with an aggresive approach and attacked the free agent and trade market to fill the team needs. That aggressive strategy off the field made a difference on the field, resulting in back to back Super Bowl Championships and an undefeated regular season, respectively.
The Patriots are currently in a similar situation. They were within one completion of winning yet another Super Bowl title, despite having one of the worst pass defenses in NFL history. While the offense is prolific and has most of their impact players returning, the defense has many free agents to re-sign and holes to fill. The needs are so prolific that it’s hard not to be enamored with the idea of Mario Williams being a potential fit for the Patriots.
Does Mario Williams fit the Patriots Defense?
Williams would be a tremendous fit in the Patriots system, there’s no denying that. Not only is Williams regarded as one of the best 4-3 rush ends in the entire league, but he also showed this year before he got injured that he could stand up and play OLB. He made the switch flawlessly and looked even more dangerous rushing from an OLB position.
In the five games before he sustained a torn pectoral muscle which ended his season, Williams had recorded five sacks and looked natural playing on his feet. Williams would be able to fill the Willie McGinest “elephant” role, which the Patriots just have not been able to fill since McGinest has left.
Bill Belichick has drafted players such as Shawn Crable and Jermaine Cunningham, hoping that they could evolve into that type of player. Williams would give the Patriots a player who is every bit if not better than Willie McGinest was at any point in his career. Williams would allow the Patriots to be versatile in their schemes and play both 3-4 and 4-3 while keeping an elite pass rusher on the field.
Bill Belichick became famous for coaching the best pass rushing LB of all time-Lawrence Taylor-and finding ways to use him. Belichick would have a field day finding ways to move Williams around and create mismatches with opposing offenses.
Adding Williams would also take some of the pressure off of other front seven players like Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo. Williams would immediately become the #1 concern of opposing teams and teams would have to spend a lot of time game planning against him, which would ultimately benefit the other players on the Patriots roster. Williams is the type of versatile player that Bill Belichick looks for and covets.
What Would it Take to Get Him?
It’s going to take something massive. Williams just turned 27 in January, so he is just entering the prime of his career. This caliber of pass rusher just doesn’t hit the free agent market often. There is going to be a feeding frenzy around Williams with 10-15 teams in the running to sign him.
To get Williams to sign on the dotted line, it’s going to take a contract that makes him the highest paid defensive end in the league and a contract that has a good portion of the money guaranteed. This past season, Richard Seymour made 15 million dollars, making him the highest paid defender in the league. Elvis Dumervil has a contract which pays him 14 million dollars annually. Those numbers are a good starting point.
Taking a stab at the potential contract, I’d say that to get Williams in a Patriots uniform it would have to be a contract in the area of 8 years and 128 million dollars with 60-70 million dollars guaranteed. That puts the average annual value of the deal around 16 million dollars, which would make him the highest paid defensive player in the league. Which ever team signs him will also have to front load a lot of the money to make the package all that more attractive.
Will the Patriots Actually Sign Him?
I fully expect the Patriots to at least explore the possibility, much like they did with Julius Peppers. The Patriots may even make him a legitimate offer. However, I wouldn’t hold my breathe when it comes to Williams. The numbers being thrown around are unheard of when talking about the Patriots organization.
There’s no doubt that the Patriots would be an attractive landing spot for Williams and will it’s something that will likely intrigue him. If he was willing to take 3-4 million per years less to come to New England I believe the chances would increase exponentially. But in the end I think it will be too much money and Bill Belichick will be unwilling to give out that type of contract to just one player.