I was one of the few people who supported the Houston Texans' selection of Mario Williams over Reggie Bush in the 2006 NFL draft. Williams has proven to be the right pick in six outstanding seasons with the Texans.
Despite being the face of their defense during that span, Houston decided not to place the franchise tag on the Pro Bowl performer. This pretty much signals an end to his career there.
Now the talented sack artist is going to be taking his game to a new city in 2012 and beyond. You can expect him to draw interest from a dozen teams or so.
Williams is one of the few defensive players on the free-agent market who isn't scheme specific. This means he is able to play defensive end in the 4-3 defense and outside linebacker in the 3-4 defense. This also makes the market for Williams that much bigger.
His agent will be able to compare the star to both defensive end and linebacker when discussing a contract.
Jared Allen signed a six-year contract worth over $73 million following the 2007 season. Considering that Williams isn't as one-dimensional as Allen, his value would probably be higher than this.
DeMarcus Ware would also be a good starting-off point for negotiations with Williams. He signed a contract worth nearly $80 million with the Dallas Cowboys in 2009, a sign that teams value the pass-rush threat a great deal.
Either comparison here has to be adjusted in order to take into account inflation and the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. In short, you are probably looking at a contract that tops $100 million and has considerable length.
While there are only a handful of teams that have the cap space to make a play for Williams, he has one great bargaining chip: demand.
The drop-off in terms of a pass-rusher in free agency is considerable after Williams. John Abraham is strictly a 4-3 defensive end and is pretty long in the tooth at this point. Ahmad Brooks just signed a six-year extension with the San Francisco 49ers, making the market much weaker. That is about it for difference makers at defensive end or outside linebacker in free agency.
Of course, there are rumors that other players, most notably Dwight Freeney, might hit the market. Even with some additions here and there, you really aren't going to see a great amount of talent at this position in the free-agent pool.
This means that Williams has all the negotiating power moving forward.
The New England Patriots jump out to me as the team that could really make a play for Mario Williams. They are one of the few teams that have the salary-cap room to take on this type of contract. They also have a huge need for a pass-rusher in the front seven.
Another added dimension in this equation is the fact that New England runs a hybrid 4-3 and 3-4 defense, something that seems to fit the talents of Williams a great deal.
Other options include: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Carolina Panthers and New York Jets.