NFL Free Agency 2012: 6 Ways Mario Williams Deviates from "the Patriot Way"
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"You can never step twice in the same river; for new waters are always flowing onto you."- Heraclitus
Diehard Pats fans look as far as their most recent contest when considering their offseason wish list.
For weeks, consistent, modest gains through the air and timely, well-executed runs worked the clock and the yardsticks in the Patriots' favor. But for one night in Indianapolis, during Super Bowl XLVI, the Patriots' weaknesses negated their strengths as the faithful from Maine to Massachusetts gradually learned the Pats' offense was their defense, and the odds had come to cash their check.
Giants: nine defensive possessions: two three and outs, one interception, one safety and one turnover on downs.
Patriots: nine defensive possessions: zero-fer.
The New England faithful watched as a ferocious Giants pass rush rendered Tom Brady helpless, and a hobbled Rob Gronkowski threw the well-oiled Pats passing attack from its rhythm. In the Giants' defense, Patriots fans witnessed precisely what they needed to finish the job next year—a pass rush.
Will Mario Williams provide the bone-crushing, drive-killing sacks for which Pats fans lust? Time will tell, but name recognition rarely equates to results in NFL free agency.
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What Pats Fans Want
Julius Peppers met his $84 million expectations in Chicago.
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Hype doesn't always lead to production, nor does past performance guarantee future success.
The Bears have one. Dallas has one, Minnesota has one. New York has a few. Now it's our turn to watch a beastly pass-rusher mutilate someone else's hapless quarterback.
Imagine Tom Brady leading the Pats to a deliberate, efficient, opening-drive touchdown. Then, a hellacious pass rush sacks the opponent, or better yet, forces an interception, arming Tommy Terrific with good field position against a tired defense. Pats 14, bad guys 0 with 10:00 to go in the first. Your move, Rex Ryan, etc.
That's how close the Patriots are from finding all the pieces, and their fans understand it all too well. The energy surrounding Mario Williams is palpable, and Pats fans insisting the organization spring for Mario Williams have the right idea. But at his likely price tag and given his recent history, the Pats should hold firm on adding the Texans' Pro Bowl defensive end.
It's Worked in the Past
If only Jared Allen were up for renewal, the Pats would have their man.
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Mario Williams isn't Jared Allen, Julius Peppers or Reggie White.
Based on Williams' demonstrated ability in recent seasons and the size of his likely asking price, the Patriots could address their need for an elite pass-rusher more sustainably via other means. If it were Julius Peppers, it would be worth the investment. But Williams resembles Peppers more in public recognition than on the stat sheet.
In recent years, high-profile acquisitions on the defensive line, like Julius Peppers and Jared Allen, came to fruition for their employers. Both Allen and Peppers continued their success and played at a Pro Bowl level. Moves like these, and the original high-profile D-lineman, Reggie White, demonstrate the relative reliability of acquiring a premier defensive end given their ability to consistently stay healthy and produce.
The issue with Williams will come down to when he asks to be paid like Julius Peppers or Jared Allen. The Patriots will likely have to pay Williams like Peppers or Allen, who own two to three more times the career accomplishments and were far healthier free agents than Mario Williams.
Julius Peppers Career Stats:
Summer 2010: Signs six-year, $84 million contract with the Chicago Bears
What the Patriots Risk in Signing Williams
Jevon Kearse never returned to the Pro Bowl after signing a $63 million contract in 2004.
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Jevon Kearse's NFL coming out party with the 1999 Tennessee Titans shook the league as Jeff Fisher's squad came within a yard of a Super Bowl title. "The Freak," enjoyed several Pro Bowl seasons as a Titan, but in 2002 and 2003, he failed to play through Thanksgiving.
The Philadelphia Eagles ignored the setbacks and doubled down on the defensive end who ran a 4.43 at his pro day workout at the University of Florida. The Eagles signed Kearse to an eight-year, $66-million contract with $20 million guaranteed. While Kearse performed sufficiently as a starting defensive end, his production fell far short of what the Eagles had anticipated for a return on their investment in Kearse.
The lesson? The Eagles franchise was hungry for the piece that would put them over the top; their fans were eager for the next big-name player to take them over the threshold from the NFC championship game to the Super Bowl.
In signing Kearse, the organization caved to fan and media pressure to provide a name-brand solution, rather than acknowledging the reality that Kearse's body was wearing down and building through the draft.
Williams' previous two seasons eerily mirror Kearse's 2002 and 2003 campaigns with the Titans.
Jevon Kearse Career Stats:
August, 2004: Philadelphia Eagles sign Kearse to eight-year, $66-million extension
What Williams Has to Offer
Mario Williams: a fine acquisition at a better price.
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Mario Williams has participated in only 18 contests in the last two seasons.
Simply consider the haunting similarity between Kearse's performance in the two years before his contract expired and Williams' production in the last two seasons:
Mario Williams Career Stats:
Jevon Kearse from 2002-2009
Season G Tackles Assists Sacks FF FR
What Williams Wants
The former number one pick will naturally prefer to remain in his pay-grade.
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Notable NFL Free-Agent Defensive End Signings, 2009-2011
Jared Allen, Minnesota: six years, $73 million, $15.5 million signing
Julius Peppers, Chicago: six years, $84 million, $6.5 million signing
Tamba Hali, Kansas City: five years, $60 million, $15 million signing
Chris Canty, New York Giants: six years, $42 million, $8.5 million signing
Despite his recent injury, Williams will undoubtedly require the top defensive end salary for the 2012 free-agency class—a price his health calls quickly into question. Williams will ask for a minimum of five years, $40 million and a $6 million signing bonus with around $20 million guaranteed. More likely, he's looking for someone to pay him like Peppers or Allen, with a front-heavy contract worthy of an All-Pro in his prime.
Williams' best years may very well lay behind him. Even if he plays serviceable football as Kearse did in Philadelphia, he will occupy cap room crucial to rounding out the Patriots' roster.
The Price Is Wrong
Kameron Wimbley: twice the momentum, half the price tag.
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Other Options Exist at Defensive End via the Draft and Free Agency
Oakland's Kamerion Wimbley could provide the Patriots with a consistent run-stopping presence and an athletic pass-rusher on the edge. Further, Wimbley's missed one game in his career and his lack of the "Pro Bowl," label considerably lowers his asking price. Wimbley's underrated, healthy and could thrive within the Patriots' system.
Jacksonville's Jeremy Mincey could similarly prove a diamond in the rough, but his health history isn't as pristine as Wimbley's. Mincey emerged with eight sacks last season and could be a bargain.
If Mario Williams struggled to return to a Pro Bowl level of play, he would squander money and precious reps and starts better invested in young talent.
USC's Nick Perry, Marshall's Vinny Curry and possibly even Alabama's Courtney Upshaw await the Patriots in the 2012 NFL draft at picks 27, 31, 48 or 63.
On a team with a minimum of $16 million and a maximum of around $21 million in cap room, Mario Williams would essentially round out the entire free-agency class. In a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business if there ever was one, Williams' recent performances don't merit that investment.
Though Williams would sell tickets and improve the team, the Patriots should hedge their bets and build through the draft.