Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 2/17/12
At age 27 Mario Williams has 53 career sacks. Despite the fact he played in just 5 games last season, no current player in the NFL as young as Williams has collected as many sacks. At the time of his injury in 2011, only three players had more sacks since Williams' rookie year in 2006: DeMarcus Ware, Jared Allen and Trent Cole. All of those players are older than Williams. Thus the assertion that Williams could become the NFL's highest paid defensive player during free agency and the Texans' desire to retain him. Regardless of the complaint by some fans and others that Williams' motor isn't always revved, he is one of the elite pass rushers in the game. And if you've noticed, Super Bowl champions have two very important things in common these days: excellent quarterback play and an excellent pass rush. "You have to have good players but you need some great players," said Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. Some fans believe that with the emergence of linebackers Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed, Williams is a very expensive luxury, not a necessity. Phillips begs to differ. As for Williams' supposed disinterest at times, Phillips said that simply wasn't true even after the season-ending chest injury. "A lot of guys, when they go on injured reserve, kind of drift away from the team," Phillips said. "He was so supportive all the way through the playoffs. " Williams even addressed his teammates the evening prior to the playoff matchup with the Ravens in a speech Phillips described as "passionate." Williams has certainly had head-scratching times when those around him wondered about a consistent effort. But he's also had stretches of dominance that can only be displayed by the special ones. Because Phillips' 3-4 scheme requires an abundance of linebackers, the Texans will have to address that need in free agency if Williams ends up with another team. While Brian Cushing, DeMeco Ryans, Barwin and Reed were terrific, depth became an issue. "We really didn't have any back-up playersanybody in case they went out," Phillips said. With nearly a month remaning before the start of free agency, it's simply too soon to determine where Williams will end up. Last year virtually no one had the Eagles as the team most likely to sign cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. Williams appeared genuinely excited when the Texans went to the 3-4 last year and he was getting more comfortable with the move to linebacker before he suffered the injury which ended his season. In praising Williams, Phillips threw in this nugget: "He's gotta chance to be the all-time leadermaybe even break the sack record. Those things are in the future here we hope. I have good feelings about the whole thing." Bruce Smith is the all-time leader in sacks with 200. To mention Williams in that sort of company may be a sales job by Phillips but the numbers suggest it's not a whacky prediction. After his first five years Smith had 57.5 sacks, only 4.5 more than Williams. Smith played 19 years to accumulate the sack numbers.
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