The Seahawks have interest in Mario Williams, which is very exciting. If you’re not excited by this, positively or negatively, you may want to seek medical attention, as it is possible that your heart is no longer functioning. Mario Williams is the best free agent available this offseason. He’s also probably going to be the most expensive free agent available this offseason.
In fact, if somehow every defensive end became a free agent today, Mario Williams may be the best defensive end available. And at only 27 years old, he still may be the most expensive (though I’m sure Richard Seymour would ask for $2 million more annually).
Williams has 53 sacks in six seasons, while facing constant double teams, and had five sacks in the five games he played last year. He’s been injured the past two seasons, but between a pectoral tear and a sports hernia, he hasn’t suffered any structural damage.
The Seahawks have their own defensive end free agent named Red Bryant. And certainly the team will do what they can to bring Bryant back. He’s a better long term option than Chris Clemons, who is a free agent after next season, and if the team signed Williams, he could play Clemons’ position (the Leo).
Williams played this season as a 3-4 rush linebacker, and at 6-6 283 lbs, he was one of the biggest linebackers in the history of the NFL. At least since Levon Kirkland’s fat ass retired. While the Leo doesn’t do what a conventional lineman does in pre-snap setup, Williams has done something similar before. However, Williams’ roots are as a 4-3 end, and while right end may be the most glamorous position on this line, Williams versatility to probably be the best player at any position on the Seahawks defensive line makes him significantly more valuable to the team.
So if Red Bryant leaves, Williams can take his spot. When Chris Clemons leaves after next season, Williams can take his spot. If the team needs a boost at defensive tackle, Williams can take that spot.
When a team has players that can play multiple positions, it allows them to carry depth at other positions: Want a long snapper? Want a kickoff specialist? Want a sixth or seventh receiver? Third tight end? Eighth offensive lineman? You have to make up for those extra guys somehow.
Don’t take this the wrong way. In no way is the 54th-turned-53rd-man on a football roster valuable enough to make signing Williams to a long-term, presumably very expensive contract a no braining. It does however supplement his value considerably, and ultimately makes the team better in a way that Williams doesn’t have a direct impact on. I’m not talking about how a good pass rush makes a secondary’s job easier. I’m talking about how the team may be able to carry an extra corner and Brandon Browner may be able to take a play off every now and then, and perhaps he’ll find interfering with receivers much less necessary (I’m talking about the real interference calls, not the “he’s a long-armed essentially-rookie so fuck him” calls).
But Williams will be expensive. He’ll be very expensive. In 2010 Julius Peppers signed a six-year, $84 million deal with $42 million guaranteed. He was 30 years old and that contract was considered a discount. Williams is 27 years old. To sign Williams the Seahawks may have to surpass the Albert Haynesworth contract, which was seven-years, $100 million with $41 million guaranteed. Williams is that good, and may be that-coveted.
So how can the Seahawks afford it? The Seahawks figure to have somewhere between $30-35 million in cap room. If they release Marcus Trufant the number will climb closer to $40 million. They’ll have to figure out what they’re doing with Marshawn Lynch and Red Bryant, and those guys will certainly end up taking up a good chunk of their cap space, but neither or both shouldn’t make Williams completely unaffordable. And it’s possible that in Williams contract the Seahawks may be able to negotiate a larger signing bonus in exchange for a low first-year base salary, and manipulate the cap to give them some remaining flexibility this offseason.
Mario Williams looks like he’ll be going to the highest bidder. That sounds like a negative, but considering the depth of Paul Allen’s pockets and his commitment to Seahawks excellence, it will probably work in their favor, because the reasons that players usually don’t want to come to Seattle don’t have anything to do with money, but rather location and desire to compete (back when the Seahawks weren’t competitive). So while the team has had to pay elite prices for lower-level talent in the past, they can probably just pay Williams what he’s worth, and actually get elite talent.
I’m a big proponent for finding a long-term option at quarterback, even if such a quarterback means another year of Tarvaris Jackson, or another short-term solution at the position. But Mario Williams can upgrade an already-good defense next season, make other parts of the team better with his versatility, and can be the elite pass rusher the Seahawks have lacked for quite some time, and perhaps the difference between a 7-9 team and a team that competes with the 49ers to win the division.