Just in case you’re wondering, I realize the body of the article is going to stray a little bit from the actual title, but when the Buffalo Bills signed the biggest free agent of the 2012 off season and arguably one of the most valuable defensive free agents ever in defensive end Mario Williams, the generic cliche’ just doesn’t seem appropriate.
The GREAT – Public relations, ticket sales and merchandising.
Signing a big-name, big-dollar franchise caliber impact player like Mario Williams is exactly the shot in the arm this organization and fan base needed, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. After 12 consecutive seasons without a playoff berth, a decade-plus of mediocre (to terrible!) play on the field and a seemingly equal ineptness in acquiring talent by the various front offices, ponying up the big bucks for a superstar already has energized anybody that bleeds Bills’ red & blue. Overcoming a poor national reputation (probably earned, in some respects) and (in my opinion, anyway) ill-deserved criticism over being cheap or not willing to put forth enough effort to actually want to win had come to the top of the list of priorities at One Bills Drive. Fans are excited again, not wary of talking about the playoffs as a distinct possibility as opposed to a dream, reveling in an anticipated return to an above average and maybe even (dare we say it?) dominant defense and probably looking forward to the season opener more than in any other in recent memory. The national media has taken notice–”Hey, there is a professional football team in Buffalo!”…we’re not just a footnote on ESPN or NFLN anymore, we’re freaking relevant! Fans are jacked, and they should be.
Williams arrival has already exhibited an instant impact, as evidenced by an apparent rush for purchasing season tickets causing the ticket office to increase their hours of operation over the weekend. As one fan succinctly put it “No more blackouts this year, baby!” If that isn’t enough, fans are already flooding the Bills store with calls reserving their Williams jersey, despite the fact the number he will wear has yet to be determind.
Yes, Bills fans are once again ready and willing to circle the wagons, and the team is going to make a boatload from ticket sales and merchandising. That’s what’s known as a win-win scenario, and the main reason why signing Super Mario was ‘great’.
The QUESTIONABLE – By the ‘Rule’, this was a bad football move.
Yes, I said it. A ‘bad football move’. Philosophically and historically, most consistent winning NFL football teams are not built around throwing mega-deals at free agents. It takes away resources (read: real dollars and fake cap space dollars) that could be spent on other areas of the team that need improvement. Not to mention that numerous (the majority, even?) big-dollar free agent deals almost never live up to the promise or hype. Hell, truth be known a veteran free agent is probably statistically more likely to go bust for his new team than a first round draft pick. Are there exceptions to that rule? Absolutely…Reggie White and Drew Brees are two that come immediately to mind, but we’ll address that later.
Let’s face it…prior to this free agency period the Buffalo Bills were NOT a team that was one player away. Although getting a pass rusher certainly was near the top of the list, it absolutely wasn’t (and still isn’t) the only hole on the team. Wide receiver, cornerback, linebacker, left tackle, are some other areas that need not only probably starters, but depth also. Back-up quarterback too, and there is still a not too small faction of fans that would like to see a new starter there. How is a $100 million dollar pass rusher going to fill those holes? He isn’t, unless Super Mario really can play all of those positions at the same time at a Pro Bowl level. I’ll give you a hint…he can’t.
So where is the rest of the talent going to come from, now that the Bills budget has been just about busted? The draft? Maybe, but that’s a crapshoot and not really an immediate upgrade. More free agents? Probably not starter material because the big money needed to entice a player of that caliber has already been spent, but if Buddy Nix can shake the piggy bank hard enough he may be able to squeeze a few pennies out for a couple of second- or third-tier free agents that we might get lucky on. Still, from a “How to build a consistently successful NFL football team” perspective, this was a very risky move by the Bills’ braintrust, one that the odds say shouldn’t be in our favor.
The UGLY – Two scenarios, Part A and Part B
There really are only two possible outcomes for the future of Mario Williams and his career with the Buffalo Bills, and I’ll refer to them as ‘Ugly A’ and ‘Ugly B’.
Ugly A – This is the ‘high risk’ outcome after throwing big money at Mario Williams. He never lives up to his contract, underperforms his pay, gets injured or whatever, and the team continues to wallow in mediocrity because they put all of their eggs in one basket for one guy. Yeah, we acquired a pass rusher, but the lack of resources required to upgrade the rest of the roster continues to frustrate the fan base with a weak secondary, no legit #2 wide receiver, no linebacker depth, and more seasons with losing records and futile attempts to make the playoffs. Instead of becoming a Hall of Famer, Williams becomes just another one of those guys (*cough*Drew Bledsoe*cough*) that cashed the check but couldn’t keep it from bouncing back in our faces. If you think the fan base has gotten ugly through 2011, you ain’t seen nothing yet if this scenario comes to fruition.
Ugly B – The ‘high reward’ outcome. True, free agents don’t usually pan out. True, Ralph Wilson has thrown money at other guys in the past, and they’ve turned into pumpkins as soon as they got off the plane at the airport. True, we’ve made trades, drafted players we thought were going to contribute and ended up getting cut, etc etc. True, we’ve suffered through 12 seasons of watching the playoffs instead of participating, and one single guy isn’t going to overcome or change any of that. Or can he?
As I mentioned earlier, free agent busts are the rule. I also mentioned a couple of exceptions, and that’s where Ugly B comes into play. Who’s to say that Mario Williams isn’t our exception to the rule? Why can’t he make it extremely UGLY for any quarterback we face over the next six seasons, especially those under center for the division rival Patriots, Jets and Dolphins? Why can’t our defense, with the addition of one dominant player that makes every one of team mates around him better, help make that defense Damn UGLY for offenses to line up against? Really there is no reason he can’t. Just because things usually happen one way it doesn’t mean they can’t happen differently. That’s what the Bills were banking on when they made him the highest paid defensive player in the league.
The rule for the last decade plus for the Buffalo Bills has been wasted money on free agents, wasted draft picks, wasted opportunities and a dozen seasons of failure. Well, the ‘rule’ has gotten old, and most of us are damn tired of it. We’re long overdue to cash in on an ‘exception’, and Mario Williams could be just that.