NFL Analysis: Could the Atlanta Falcons End Up with Mario Williams?

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Jason LaCanfora has crossed with me and I am not sure if I can just let this one slide.  After years of learning to temper my football expectations, I mentally accepted that the monstrous Mario Williams would not play for Atlanta. Williams has been linked to Seattle and New England, but not to Atlanta.  The elite pass rusher will likely bring sacks to another team for years

LaCanfora has dashed my settled expectations, and instead gave me some odd feeling of hope about our pass rush.

There will be no shortage of suitors, and Williams could end up earning in the ballpark of $13 million guaranteed. The Falcons are never shy this time of year and need a pass rusher with John Abraham on the way out and Ray Edwards coming off a poor first season in Atlanta. Seattle has cap wiggle room and could certainly utilize an established edge threat on what is rounding into a fearsome young defense.

I will curse LaCanfora's name if Mario Williams signs elsewhere for planting this seed.  How about we consider the Mario Williams situation below.

Who else is in the Williams sweepstakes?  

  • San Diego apparently has a "price" but it is not clear if that is a competitive price.  I would expect to see a panic move or two out of A.J. Smith after he barely kept his job this off season.
  • Adam Schefter shot down the likelihood of Williams going to New England earlier today.
  • There was previous baseless speculation Dallas could pick him up.  (I have seen Dallas connected to Brandon Carr and Carl Nicks, as well.  Starting to think they are connected to all big name players)
  • Seattle has been connected to Williams, but the same goes with Peyton Manning and Vincent Jackson.  Pray Manning goes to Seattle so they cannot afford Mario Williams.
  • The Jaguars, Jets and Packers are presumptively out of contention with their beat reporters, or general managers, denying they will spend in free agency.  

The Julius Peppers Comparison.  At a gigantic 6'6" and almost 300lbs, Williams impressed at the combine with 4.7 40 speed and other elite measurables.  Actually, that speed would be impressive for a guy 50lbs smaller.  He has played 82 games, notching 53 sacks.  If my math is correct, that puts him as more productive than Julius Peppers, as far as sacks per game (.646 sacks per game versus .589 sacks per game).  This man has the speed of an elite pass rusher and the size of a defensive tackle.  He can play the run just as effectively as he can play the pass. Williams can take over an entire game.

A pass rusher of this quality rarely, if ever, becomes a free agent.  Houston has been the perfect storm for needy teams: the franchise tag is prohibitive, near $22 million, they are short on cap space, and their defense played stunningly even with him injured.  They cannot afford to keep him this year.

Two years ago today, a 30 year old Julius Peppers signed a $91.5 million, 6-year contract with $42 million guaranteed with the Bears.  Peppers was a far bigger question mark than Williams, with many long questioning his drive, character and locker room persona.  Peppers would take off plays, and occasionally games, and was never a leader in Carolina.  

Mario Williams does not have these concerns.  Not only has he just turned 27, but he is known as a good guy who puts forward fairly consistent effort on the field.  He is coming off of a season ending injury, but it is a pectoral injury, not the worrisome knee injuries.  This man is a sure thing, game changing pass rusher.

Replacing John Abraham.  Letting John Abraham walk makes much more sense if the ~$10 million a year he wants is spent on a younger player, instead of relying on a number of mediocre defensive ends.  With Williams commanding a few million more per year than Peppers, Atlanta could use Abraham's money to help pay the ~$17 million.

A young pass rusher is exactly what Atlanta needs, and we will not be getting a chance to sign a player anywhere near Mario's talent in years.  The Falcons are doing well on cap space, and can clear up a little more to sign a player who can have that Abraham level of impact for the rest of the decade.  

Who else has the hope the Atlanta Falcons can bring in one of the most prized free agents in years?

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