When you look at the seven current-or-just-retired players in the NFL head of Mario Williams in career sacks, three of them are guaranteed Hall of Famers (Julius Peppers, DeMarcus Ware and Dwight Freeney) while the others are in the discussion (Terrell Suggs, Robert Mathis and Jared Allen) or were just damn good (Elvis Dumervil).
It's not a bad cast to be surrounded by.
To continue my unofficial series, Geriatric Greats No One Talks About — last week was Darrelle Revis — the focus shifts to a possible replacement for the Packers’ “elephant” position. With the departures of Peppers and former first-round pick Datone Jones, the search for available big-tweeners-not-quite-suited-for-OLB-but-athletic-enough-to-pass-rush-in-a-hybrid-defense now should, maybe, consider Mario Williams.
Williams, the former No. 1 overall pick, is coming off two of his most forgettable seasons as a pro. These years are coincidentally drowned in questions over Williams’ interest in putting forth a pro effort. He followed a 14.5 sack, All-Pro season in 2014 with a dud in ’15, in a season where he and Rex Ryan sparred in the media before both of their departures from Buffalo, and a disappearing act in '16 with Miami. Back in Buffalo, Ryan, by many accounts, tried to fit a square peg into a round hole by asking Williams to drop into coverage rather than hone in on his proven pass-rushing skills.
Once in Miami in 2016, "Super Mario" appeared in 13 games but started just five and was virtually invisible as a role player.
No wonder the lack of offseason chatter.
But it’s always worth asking, is there something left to this player? Why? Because it’s March, many of the top free agents have been picked over, and what the hell else am I supposed to write about?
The 2014 Bills unit that Williams thrived on, in addition to the two previous Pro Bowl seasons he turned in in ’12 and ’13, had a few things in common. Those Buffalo defenses were built top-to-bottom, with a combination of run stuffers, pass rushers and quality defensive backs. Not a single one of the Bills’ offenses had much to offer other than quality run games. They were defense-first units through and through.
The '14 Bills in particular were a dominant unit. Aaron Rodgers faced some top-notch units that year, but even Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” fell short of the dominance he faced in a road game against Buffalo. The Bills were downright nasty, and Super Mario was a key cog in that unit.
Going further back, Williams averaged a hair under 10 sacks a season as a defensive end in Houston before converting, somewhat unsuccessfully, to outside linebacker in his final season with the Texans in 2011. As a new Bill, though, Williams was asked to rush the passer and answered with 38 total sacks in 2012, ’13 and ’14.
Things went sour in ’15 when Williams and fellow tweener, Jerry Hughes, were tasked with dropping into coverage more often.
Hughes was also vocal about his displeasure in the apparent change in scheme.
At this point in his career, Williams had already been paid a pretty penny, and opted for Miami in free agency. The Dolphins’ hybrid unit would employ in pass rushing situations a Wide 9 front, which sets its edge rushers out especially wide.
The Dolphins had the 30th ranked rush defense in 2016. This was not a unit pinning opposing quarterbacks in obvious passing downs. Just how many 3rd and longs did they face? Not sure. But Williams was demoted after starting five games and disappeared into a reserve role. The 11-year-pro attributed foot and ankle injuries to his hindered productivity.
At this point, you’re all probably super excited about Williams — a 32-year-old pass rusher who hasn’t been productive in two-and-a-half-years. Hold that thought.
If there’s anything left of the impressive athlete who was drafted, at the time picked shockingly ahead of Reggie Bush as the No. 1 overall pick, then Williams just might be a quality fill-in for the Packers’ elephant position previously occupied by the likes of Peppers, Jones and Mike Neal.
Williams measures 6-foot-6, weighs in at over 285 pounds and has always had impressive speed to match his huge frame. Not a true linebacker, and probably not a five-tech in Green Bay's base scheme. He’s a less consistent, less productive and slightly less athletic Julius Peppers for his career. But Peppers is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, obviously. If anything it’s a compliment to point out that Mario is one-if-not-only of Peppers' physical contemporaries.
Williams is also in the need of a jolt if he’s going to have any chance at resurrecting his career. The easy thing would be to sign with a 4-3 team that needs an edge rusher, but schemes are line-blurring these days, and with Green Bay stuck in the Nickel 75 percent of the time, what’s to stop Williams from finding new life as an elephant in Dom Capers’ room?
Williams probably comes at a discount, too. What’s the basis for this assessment? No one has said his name since free agency started. He’s regarded as a has-been. Why not give him a flyer for $3-4 million a year to play for a winner? In 11 seasons, Williams has reached the postseason twice and never advanced past the Wild Card round. Maybe he’s not just hungry for wrecking quarterbacks, but, you know, for winning some football games?
To become a situational rusher, at a position suited to his girth and edge-setting capabilities, in a city that has been known to breathe new life into veteran standouts, it’s not completely crazy to think that he makes the Packers — who currently lack an elephant — a more dangerous bunch with him on their team.
Oh well, see you next week when I ask whether bringing Jason Taylor out of retirement would help the Packers’ pass rush. Kidding. Maybe.
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