NFL Free Agency 2012: Mario Williams a “Super” Fit in Tampa Bay

Justin HoppeCorrespondent IIFebruary 2, 2012

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 09:  Outside linebacker Mario Williams #90 of the Houston Texans is introduced before playing against the Oakland Raiders on October 9, 2011 at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas. Williams left the game because of a torn pectoral muscle.(Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images)
Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images

Mario Williams’ 2011 season was off to a rousing start. The true defensive end recorded five sacks through as many games. However, his year came to an immediate halt after a torn pectoral caused the former No. 1 overall pick and once highly criticized selection of the Houston Texans to miss the franchise’s first playoff run.

To the surprise of many, the Texans did not suffer through his absence, but continued to improve and carry an offense that no longer could depend on the efforts of injured quarterback Matt Schaub.

By the end of the 2011 season, the Texans defense would rank within the Top 5 in the entire league (second in yards and fourth in points allowed) without what many around the NFL had considered to be their defensive cornerstone in Williams.

With the development of the young unit, overall talent of the linebacking corps and the potential financial burden of re-signing the freakishly gifted defensive end, many now believe that the Texans will likely let Williams go.

Of course, this would be a decision that would undoubtedly land the 26-year-old pass-rusher at the top of wish lists league-wide if it were to be realized.

Coveted by several teams, this free agency period would almost certainly center around a bidding war to secure the services of the player who should just be entering the physical prime of his career.

Reportedly entering the offseason with somewhere in the vicinity of $55 million in cap space, the Buccaneers have as great a chance as any to bring Williams to the Tampa Bay area.

In doing so, the Bucs would acquire the type of pass-rushing threat they have not had since Simeon Rice, acquired from Arizona now more than a decade ago.

Last season, the Buccaneers defense was abysmal, allowing just over 30 points per game. The secondary often looked to be completely exhausted, constantly forced to make stops that the front seven should have made well before.

Through 16 games, the Bucs collected a league-worst 23 total sacks (rookie Adrian Clayborn led the team with 7.5) which played a vital role in the team’s other defensive lapses.

This is not to say that the failure of the Bucs offense to score and keep the defensive unit fresh did not play a part in the squad’s substantial drop in performance from last year, but it is undeniable that upgrades must be made (on both sides of the ball).

Allowing veteran defensive end Michael Bennett to leave and allocating a major stake of the team’s massive cap room to Williams would pay immediate dividends.

Williams’ ability to create pressure on opposing quarterbacks would instantly make a secondary that is likely to add LSU’s Morris Claiborne in the draft immensely better.

Taking into consideration his sheer size (6’6”, 290 lbs) and rare physical assets, he would occupy a number of opposing blockers himself, freeing up teammates to make plays around him.

That said, ability to occupy blockers becomes especially important for teams such as the Bucs. Tampa Bay prefers undersized linebackers with the ability to work sideline-to-sideline, who are gifted in coverage and who are sound tacklers, but who lack the pure strength to consistently shed blocks.

Where “Super Mario” ultimately decides to take his talents (South Beach, maybe?) is impossible to foretell, but the Bucs would certainly be making a massive mistake in not pursuing the outstanding defensive end.