Originally written on Buffalo Wins  |  Last updated 11/9/14

Now that the Buffalo Bills own the highest-paid defensive player in league history, their defense needs to be better in 2012.

Not should be better. Not could be better. It needs to be better.

But, ah, hold on a minute, I was always told by my coaches and inspiration posters in my high school hallways that there is no I in team. One person can't do it on their own, I was told. They need the help of their team.

So what kind of help is Mario Williams getting? There are a few different ways to tackle this. We could talk about up and coming players (Jairus Byrd, Arthur Moats), we could talk about veterans (Nick Barnett, George Wilson), we could talk about newcomers (Dareus, Gilmore). There are plenty of angles to attack the "Who can step up and help Mario improve this bend-but-don't-break-but-ultimately-shatter defense?" question.
Today, I want to look solely at who is getting paid the most to help him. Simple logic would say, "Those who get compensated the most, should do the most."  I'm not here to defend that logic, because as you know and as you will see, it's simply not the case. Players who get paid the most are expected to contribute the most, but in actuality, it doesn't always happen.

So how well has Buffalo handled its money on the defensive side of the ball?
Let's take a look.

Using information gathered on sportscity.com, I compiled a list of the top-5 highest paid defensive players on 10 NFL teams. I chose the four teams in the AFC East, along with teams who fielded the top-4 defenses last year (Jets were No. 5) and two other high-profile defenses.

I picked the top-5 players from every because one player wouldn’t tell us a whole lot and the full 11 would stretch the numbers. I ranked them in order, starting with the highest-paid. The figures provided are the base salaries, not the cap hit.

  • Philadelphia Eagles — $28.225 million
  • Top-5 players — Nnamdi Asomugha ($11 million), DeMeco Ryans ($5.9 million), Jason Babin ($5.75 million), Trent Cole ($3 million), Darryl Tapp ($2.575 million).
  • New York Giants — $27.25 million
  • Top-5 players — Antrel Rolle ($6.75 million), Corey Webster ($6.5 million), Chris Canty ($6 million), Mathias Kiwanuka ($4 million), Michael Boley ($4 million).
  • New York Jets — $26.4 million
  • Top-5 players — David Harris ($9.9 million), Darrelle Revis ($4.5 million), Bart Scott ($4.2 million), LaRon Landry ($4 million), Antonio Cromartie ($3.8 million).
  • San Francisco 49ers — $23.075 million
  • Top-5 players — Dashon Goldson ($6.2 million), Justin Smith ($5.875 million), Carlos Rogers ($3.9 million), Isaac Sopoaga ($3.8 million), Donte Whitner ($3.3 million).
  • Baltimore Ravens — $21.2 million
  • Top-5 players — Ed Reed ($7.2 million), Ray Lewis ($4.95 million), Terrell Suggs ($4.9 million), Haloti Ngata ($2.9 million), Bernard Pollard ($1.25 million).
  • Miami Dolphins — $20.783 million
  • Top-5 players — Karlos Dansby ($8.8 million), Kevin Burnett ($3.95 million), Randy Starks ($3.725 million), Tony McDaniel ($3 million), Chris Clemons ($1.308 million).
  • Pittsburgh Steelers — $20.64 million
  • Top-5 players — Troy Polamalu ($6.25 million), James Harrison ($5.565 million), Larry Foote ($3 million), Ryan Clark ($3 million), Brett Keisel ($2.825 million).
  • Buffalo Bills — $20.2 million
  • Top-5 players — Mario Williams ($5.9 million), Shawne Merriman ($4 million), Dwan Edwards ($3.8 million), Chris Kelsay ($3.5 million), Kyle Williams ($3 million).
  • Houston Texans — $19.558 million
    Top-5 players — Jonathan Joseph ($7.25 million), Antonio Smith ($5.5 million), Danieal Manning ($3.5 million), Shaun Cody ($2 million), Brice McCain ($1.308 million).
  • New England Patriots — $9.49 million
  • Top-5 players — Vince Wilfork ($4.5 million), Kyle Arrington ($1.85 million), Jerod Mayo ($1.25 million), Tracy White ($990,000), Rob Ninkovich ($900,000).

So what have we got here? You can draw your own conclusions about the other teams on the list — for example, "Wow, with a top-5 like that, I think the Patriots defense actually over-performed last year." — but let's focus on the Bills.

Going by a projected starting defensive line of Mario Williams, Dareus, Kyle Williams and Mark Anderson, only two of the top-5 paid defensive players on the team are starters. Merriman, Edwards and Kelsay will all see valuable snaps, but, injuries aside, won't be starting.

I understand depth. I understand the need for having a rotating defensive line. But look at the Giants, known for their rotating D-line. Only two of their top-5 are on the line. Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora are No.'s 6 and 7 in terms of salaries, but once again, you are talking about starters, not backups.

Compare the Steelers — spending just $440,000 more on their top-5 and owners of last year's No. 1 defense — with Buffalo. Polamalu, Harrison, Foote, Clark and Keisel. Defensive back, Linebacker, Linebacker, Defensive back, Defensive lineman.  Williams, Merriman, Edwards, Kelsay, Williams. Defensive lineman, Defensive lineman, Defensive lineman, Defensive lineman, Defensive lineman. Spencer Johnson also falls in at $3 million, tied with Kyle Williams, so add him to the list of backup defensive linemen. If the Bills had kept Drayton Florence, he would be second, making $4 million. Instead, Buffalo parted ways with the corner in order to save some money and all younger players to take on a larger role.

I'd like to think a similar move on the defensive line is coming soon. With the emergence of Dareus last year, and every indication that he'll be even more dominant in 2012, the team should look to lock him up long-term before his rookie deal comes to an end.

Also, Jairus Byrd will be in need of a raise come season's end. If we can learn anything about how some of the top defenses in the league spend their money, balance is key.
To free up room for these talented youngsters, changes will have to be made. Chances are, Buffalo's top-5 might look very different come 2013.

Buffalo has six years to build a dominant defense with Mario Williams as the cornerstone. But you need to be wise with how you buy the other bricks.


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