In the 16 months since Mario Williams signed a lucrative six-year, $100 million contract with the Bills, it has been anything but smooth sailing for the former first overall pick. An up-and-down 2012 campaign and an offseason full of distraction have left the Bills’ top pass rusher with the task of winning back the fans he so lovingly gushed about when he first came to Buffalo.
Before I discuss his 2012 shortcomings, let me say that I think Mario’s “underachieving” last season was grossly overstated. Bills fans needed a scapegoat for another disappointing start to a season and who better to blame than the $100 million man. I will be first to admit that Williams played well short of what you would expect from a guy who signed that sort of monster free agent contract, but three games into 2012 you would’ve thought that he had already limped through the entirety of his six-year deal with Buffalo. Talks of a wrist problem contributing to Mario’s slow start only seemed to anger the fan base even more, as they saw the “phantom injury” as a copout.
Well come to find out Mario’s wrist injury really was hindering his play and upon getting it surgically repaired, he began to look like the player who was paid to lead Buffalo’s defense. In his first six games after the procedure, Williams racked up seven sacks and ended the season with 10.5, the most for any Bills player since 2006 when Aaron Schobel got to opposing quarterbacks 14 times.
However, a disappointing end to 2012 and a rocky offseason featuring a nasty “he said, she said” lawsuit situation with his ex-fiancee and an innocent-but-ill-timed Instagram post have the Mario doubters out in full force again. And even if Mario is able to put all of those off-the-field issues behind him, on the field he will be playing in his third defensive system in as many years in 2013, which will bring about plenty of challenges and growing pains.
The good news for Mario (and the fans) is that new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s system may just be the welcome change that he needs. While some look at Pettine’s hybrid 3-4 defense as an awkward fit for a guy like Williams, it is actually built around players like him who possess both the size and speed to fill multiple roles on the field.
I believe that Mario will greatly benefit from playing under Pettine. I believe the new system will allow him to stop overthinking on the field and just make plays, which we know he has the ability to do. Furthermore, while some of his offseason issues did carry weight (anytime the words “suicidal thoughts” are involved in rumors, there is plenty of reason for concern), I also think several situations were overblown, including the Instagram debacle and the “kill ‘em” reference involving Pettine’s defensive philosophy. I know that is the responsibility of players and coaches to carefully monitor what comes out of their mouths, especially in light of the recent bounty scandal in New Orleans, but those comments were about a defensive attitude and nothing more.
Still, at the end of the day, when Bills fans see #94, they see the cool $100 million that Bills brass forked out to get him to Buffalo. It is entirely on Williams to put the distractions and excuses aside in 2013 and play up to the lofty expectations that come with the massive free agent contract he received a year ago.
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