The second the Houston Texans signed Arian Foster to that five-year deal, linebacker Mario Williams—by default—became one of, if not the, most sought-after free agent on the market.
Yes, I said it. He could be the most sought-after free agent.
Seriously, Super Mario and Peyton Manning could arm wrestle to see whose landing spot is more heavily anticipated.
And while other free agents have already been scooped up and shipped out to new teams, Williams is still waiting in the wings, the mystery around his final destination continuing to grow.
Here’s the latest buzz on landing spots for Mario Williams:
Buffalo Bills: Putting the Full-Court Press on Williams
Mario Williams’ one-day visit to Buffalo turned into a three-day fête.
Although it was believed that he would visit the Chicago Bears first, ESPN.com reported that Williams arrived in Buffalo for a team meeting with the Bills.
BuffaloBills.com then reported that the 27-year-old free agent took a standard physical Wednesday morning and met with the team’s GM, Buddy Nix, at the Bills’ training facility.
It is now being reported that Williams will stay in Buffalo overnight, the Bills are doing everything in their power to “prevent him from taking another trip.”
While it might be looking more and more like Buffalo could be Williams’ new team, there has not been any definitive indication as to whether or not Williams will be signing a deal with them.
Williams has “at least one other visit” scheduled during this week with another “unnamed” NFL franchise, set to take place on Thursday.
Chicago Bears: Out of the running?
At the opening of the market, the Chicago Bears were the favorite to land Williams.
But within just 24 hours, news has fluctuated from Chicago being out of the race, to them being a top contender and back again.
At the opening of the market on Tuesday, NFL.com’s Jason La Canfora believed that the Bears will “come hard” after Williams.
While reports began to swirl early Wednesday that the Bear were perhaps out of the “Super Mario Sweepstake,” Chicago Sun-Times writer Sean Jensen indicated that Chicago is still very much alive in the race to nab the young pass-rusher.
So is it too soon for Chicago fans to ditch the fantasy of having Mario Williams and Julius Peppers on the same defensive line?
Jacksonville and Seattle: Sleepers?
In La Canfora's report, he said Williams might not be “open to joining a team in rebuilding mode.” But that might not stop Jacksonville from pursuing Williams if he continues to visit teams over the next week.
The Jags have already been active in the first two days of free agency, signing quarterback Chad Henne to a two-year deal and wide receiver Laurent Robinson to a five-year, $32.5 million deal.
And while the Seattle Seahawks might have lost out on the opportunity to scoop up Peyton Manning, the team and their $29.8 million in cap space have redirected their energy into pursuing Mario Williams.
The Seattle Times reported Monday that the Seahawks are looking to pursue Williams, as well as another high-profile free agent: former Green Bay Packer quarterback Matt Flynn.
Could Houston Still Be Interested?
Naturally, Williams was set to hit the free-agent market after Houston signed Foster to that huge contract.
But NFL Networks Steve Wyche believes that Houston “will retain” the DE by the end of the free agency frenzy.
Granted the Texans are only $650,000 under their salary cap, so they would have to do some serious wooing to get Williams back on their team.
No Matter the Destination, Will Williams Have the Anticipated Impact?
While Super Mario is, without a doubt, the most sought-after defensive player on the market, speculation is also rising as to whether or not his level of play over the next couple of seasons will match the hype and the money being thrown his way.
Sports Illustrated writer Don Banks has likened Buffalo’s pursue of Williams to when the team went after Drew Bledsoe some 10 years ago. Williams, like Bledsoe, isn’t necessarily a big difference-maker. Bledsoe had two “uneven” seasons in Buffalo, with the team never making it to the playoffs.
And not to dig at Williams' athletic prowess, but the Texans were able to make the playoffs last season despite Williams being bound to the sidelines with a torn pectoral.