Just in case you didn’t know, I’m a huge Bills fan. I’m also a fairly realistic person. So when the Bills finally signed Mario Williams today (6 year, 100 mill, 50 mill guaranteed) and made him the highest paid defensive player in the history of the league I was stunned. Even though the Bills hosted Mario for around 2 1/2 days, which is unprecedented for a Free Agent visit that doesn’t end in a signing, I still wasn’t convinced. For a team and fanbase that has not been seriously competitive since the early 2000’s it is hard to believe anything until it is finished, whether it is a rumor of a top free agent signing or a season that starts out 5-2, nothing is over until it is over.
It seemed to be the classic power play. Immediately visit a team that has a ton of money but isn’t a true viable option because it’s Buffalo. Get the other teams to freak out with the threat that you may actually sign there, which ends up in them upping their offers before true contract negotiations begin. However when those extra offers didn’t come and the Bills made a very serious offer – a rarity for at team that usually refuses to sign free agents (even their own) for big money – Mario all of a sudden had a conundrum on his hands: to take by far what is the best offer he has received thus far and play in Buffalo or eschew the offer for a more desirable locale that would net him less money. He flew his fiancee in to sell her and himself on the city while biding his time and when no other offers that came close to the Bills’ offer came up he had to take it.
It can’t be overstated how huge of a signing this is for the much maligned Buffalo Bills franchise. No matter how much a Bills fan wants to shut-out the rumors, they continually persist that once the Bills’ only owner since they were an original member of the now defunct AFL in Ralph Wilson passed away (he is currently 92 years old) the Bills would be immediately moved to a more marketable locale. Maybe they would become one of the oft-rumored Los Angeles teams. Maybe they would end up moving to Toronto, where they already play one home game a year to gain more revenue. The Mario Williams signing has the chance to silence those rumors for the immediate future.
While Mario Williams is just one player, not even a quarterback which can turn a pretender into a contender immediately in today’s game (watch what happens when Peyton Manning finally decides), and the team still has to build and evolve around him to compete but being able to land the top free agent tells the league the Bills are ready to stop being a cellar dweller. There are only two ways to attract free agents to Buffalo, either to overpay him drastically or because they are winning football games. The Williams signing clearly is an example of the former but if Williams helps win games for the Bills the second option will open up too.
Williams gives the Bills a top-tier proven talent in the NFL. Unlike highly-touted rookie prospects, Williams has proven himself as a force in the league. The Bills have not had a player like that since the ’90s with golden age of Bills such as Jim Kelly and Bruce Smith. The presence of Williams will force other players in the NFL to take notice that the Bills are ready to become competitive and that Buffalo has become a semi-viable destination for free agents that have proven themselves in the league. No longer is Buffalo the Siberia of the NFL.
I don’t know if Mario Williams will play up to the contract he just signed. I don’t know if his signing will mean the Bills will become a Super Bowl contender for years to come. What I do know is that the signing sends a message to both the NFL and the fans that the organization has finally become serious about being a competitor in the NFL. It immediately puts Buffalo back on the map and should help shed the label that the Bills have built up over the past 10 years that Buffalo is the NFL’s minor league team. Let the Mario Williams era begin.