Two years ago most Buffalo sports fans would have only seen their teams make major offseason moves while holding an XBOX controller. Somewhere along the way Terry Pegula and Ralph Wilson changed that train of thought.
The Bills trumped a year of Pegulamania with the biggest free agent signing in the history of the city. Yes, the city. They inked Mario Williams to a six-year, $100 million contract and instantly thrust themselves into the wild card conversation.
I still think the Bills are a ways off from being a legitimate contender in the NFL. Signing Williams makes them a team to be reckoned with beyond week seven. Think of it this way; the Bills went almost half the season with Marcell Dareus anchoring a front seven with Danny Batten, Arthur Moats, Alex Carrington and Spencer Johnson as the top pass rushers. Now Dareus is part of a line with a healthy Kyle Williams and Mario Williams. If Shawne Merriman recovers, the Bills will be that much better on the pass rush.
Without getting too far ahead of myself, take a minute to savor what this means for the Bills and Western New York as a whole. Williams not only adds depth to a defensive front desperate for it, he adds elite talent to a team largely devoid of any stars. By spending three days in the region and deciding it wasn’t the worst thing he had ever seen, Williams decided this was a place he wanted to be. Now, guaranteeing him $50 million and giving him a pair of phenomenal defensive tackles probably helped matters. But his hot, young fiancé could have nixed the city by claiming any one of the many complaints detractors like Tom Brady have cited for years. None of that happened, however, so there is something to be said about the region’s effect on the decision.
At the end of the day, Williams was going to the team that would give him the best contract and an opportunity to succeed. Buffalo made sure money wasn’t going to be an issue and have proven they’re committed to making their defensive formidable after a few very lean years.
Even though depth was a prime issue for the Bills last year, the glaring absence of a true pass rusher was a weekly focal point. Williams is one of those every-down players who will be able to line up against either tackle and be a difference maker. Buffalo sorely needed a defensive difference maker and Williams is it.
What I am still waiting to see from the Bills is what step they take from here. Last week I said signing Stevie Johnson was akin to putting the ship on the right heading, signing Williams is like putting the throttle down. Buddy Nix made it sound like the team is done shopping in free agency. I understand why, but I wonder if that is the right choice.
The Bills still need a receiver to play opposite Johnson and simply can’t address all of their needs via the draft. I have to think getting an additional player or two – specifically a wide receiver or defensive back – in free agency would allow the focus of the draft to be on addressing a few positions, rather than many. Signing Williams all but eliminates the need for a pass rusher in the first three rounds. That still leaves offensive tackle, wide receiver and corner as need positions. Not to mention, linebacker and tight end are positions that could use a little more depth. One additional signing in free agency would trim that list even more.
Knowing that the Bills can enter the draft with one major red flag taken down is something that is somewhat unfamiliar to Bills fans. Entering the draft with the ability to walk away with two more major needs addressed in rounds one and two makes me think that Buffalo’s turnaround will come sooner rather than later.