Top Five Destinations For Mario Williams

In a move that will not surprise many Buffalo Bills fans, the Bills decided to part ways with Mario Williams today. The Bills cut Williams in large part due to his massive salary (the cut will create about $12M in cap space) but that was not the only reason. The Bills defense, lead by the bombastic Rex Ryan, was expected to tear through the league in 2015 but it ended up being the team’s Achilles heel. Williams was not shy about expressing his feelings for Ryan’s defense. Vic Carucci, of the Buffalo News, wrote in October:

“When we’ve got four guys rushing, we can do some different things,” end Mario Williams said. “Some of the calls that we had, we just didn’t have four guys out there rushing in certain situations, things like that. You know, you’re just playing the call.”

“We don’t make the calls as players. We’ve got to execute whatever’s called. If it’s three guys going, it’s three guys going and we’ve got to figure out an opportunity, a different way to get there faster.”

It’s obvious that Williams, who turned 31 in January, has a very clear idea of what kind of defense he would like to play in and while I do not expect him to receive a gigantic contract like the one he got from Buffalo in 2011, he will not be a cheap acquisition. So with that in mind, I decided to rank my top five destinations for Mario Williams.

  1. Atlanta Falcons

Cap Space: $30.6M

Why is it a good fit?

Falcons coach Dan Quinn attempted to bring his defense from Seattle to Atlanta in 2015 with abysmal results. Listed as the 26th defense overall by Football Outsiders DVOA, Atlanta’s defense ranked 32nd in sacks, 26th in Rush Defense and 17th in Pass Defense. Williams, with 96, has the 8th most sacks among active players.

Quinn’s defense, a hybrid one-gap/two-gap scheme, typically aligns a defensive end in a position where he is only responsible for one gap. This defender is typically expected the get into that gap (and thus the backfield) as quickly as possible, which is exactly what Williams is looking for.  

Why is it not a good fit?

While Quinn’s defense does often allow for one of the defensive ends to patrol a single gap, usually this defender is the weak side defensive end, most typically the right defensive end. Williams is almost exclusively a left defensive end, a preference that predates his professional career.

In the end, I think that Williams could help to vastly improve a defense in Atlanta that has been a problem for several years now. However, in order for it to work, Quinn would need to adjust his scheme to allow Williams the freedom to only defend one gap.

  1. San Diego Chargers

Cap Space: $32M

Why is it a good fit?

The Chargers are a team that has had issues on the defensive line for years. Listed as the 28th defense by DVOA, they ranked 20th in sacks, 22nd in Rush Defense and 14th in Pass Defense.

While typically thought of as a team that runs 3-4 defensive concepts, their General Manager has been quoted as saying “I know we’re a 3-4 on paper but it’s as close to a 4-3 as you’re ever going to see.” He continued, “We’re an under and over defense. Guys are in the gaps moving, and very rarely do we line up with a nose tackle head up on the center two-gaping with the two ends two-gaping.”  Furthermore, their defensive coordinator has said, “I’ve always been taught to get guys on an edge and being able to win those one-on-one match-ups in those situations.”

With messages like this from the Chargers, it is easy to envision a team with Williams lined up as an outside linebacker with a focus on getting into the backfield on most plays.

Why is it not a good fit?

From a basic scheme standpoint, I do not see much of an issue with how Williams would be used in San Diego but he would most certainly be lining up as an outside linebacker, and that fact alone may be enough to keep Williams from signing in San Diego.

I see San Diego as a team with an aging but still talented and capable quarterback in Philip Rivers and the Chargers have shown in the past that they will dive into free agency in order to fix their defensive line (Dwight Freeney). This one may come down to how important it is for Williams to begin every play with his hand in the dirt.

  1. Oakland Raiders

Cap Space: $74.1M

Why is it a good fit?

Imagine this: You’re an offensive coordinator, it’s 3rd and 10, and you know that the Raiders are about to send Khalil Mack and Mario Williams from opposite ends of the defensive line on a collision course that ends at your quarterbacks chest. Good luck.

Oakland’s defensive statistics in 2015 were not horrible. Ranked 14th in sacks, 16th against the run and 25th against the pass, the Raiders seem to have a solid formation to build upon on defense. They field a young team and have more than enough cap room to spare.

Why is it not a good fit?

The Raiders are a team that runs a hybrid 4-3/3-4 scheme and Williams would most likely be asked to rush from a standing position and occasionally drop into coverage. Williams’ fit into the Raiders defense would most certainly depend on if he is asked to defend one gap or two.

If I am the Raiders and I just saw my division rival win the Super Bowl with the quarterback formerly known as Peyton Manning on offense and DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller on defense, I can’t call Williams’ agent fast enough.

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars

Cap Space: $74.6M

Why is it a good fit?

The Jaguars, as a landing spot for Williams, mirror one of the teams previously mentioned: the Atlanta Falcons. Gus Bradley and Falcons coach, Dan Quinn, worked together in Seattle in 2009 and Quinn subsequently replaced Bradley as Seattle’s defensive coordinator in 2013. It is definitely fair to say that Bradley and Quinn have similar tastes on defense – a hybrid one-gap/two-gap scheme.

Jacksonville claimed the 26th spot in Football Outsiders DVOA grades and ranked 20th in sacks, 22nd in Rush Defense and 28th in Pass Defense. As it is in Oakland, the Jaguars field a relatively young team and would easily be able to afford any asking price that Williams commands.

Why is it not a good fit?

As it is in Atlanta, Williams’ fit on the Jaguars defense would come down to how often he would be able to line up and defend a single gap. The difficulty in that premise is that with this defense, that gap is typically on the end opposite where Williams prefers to play.

The Jaguars are a team with a young, exciting offense and a dreadful defense. Gus Bradley was hired to be the head coach of the Jaguars because he was seen as an exciting, innovative mind on defense. If he really is, Bradley should bring Williams to Jacksonville and find a way to unleash him on opposing offenses.

  1. Philadelphia Eagles

Cap Space: $30.5M

Why is it a good fit?

In 2015 the Eagles, listed as the 17th best defense by DVOA, ranked 17th in sacks, 20th in Rush Defense and 27th in Pass Defense.

In 2014, Mario Williams had 14.5 sacks, a personal best. His defensive coordinator that year was Jim Schwartz. On January 19, 2016, the Philadelphia Eagles hired Jim Schwartz to be their defensive coordinator.

Williams’ outburst in October, previously mentioned, was not only a knock on the defense that Rex Ryan was attempting to implement. It was a clear declaration that he preferred the defense that Schwartz ran in Buffalo, in 2014. That defense is one that does not ask defensive ends to defend two gaps or drop into coverage, rather they are expected to get into the backfield as quickly as possible on nearly every play and that is what Williams wants to do.

Why is it not a good fit?

The Eagles, while I have been writing this piece, re-signed Sam Bradford to a multi-year extension, and I am not sure how that will affect their cap space in 2016. With over $30M in cap room to begin the day, I would assume that the Eagles would still be able to sign Williams, with room to spare, but I cannot be sure.

Other than the financial commitment that Williams will command, I cannot think of another reason why Philadelphia would balk at the opportunity to sign a playmaker like Williams and that is why they are my number one destination for Williams in 2016.

Did I forget to mention a team that would make a good fit for Williams? Let me know in the comments or hit me up on Twitter.