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Mario Williams signing indicates culture shift in Buffalo

As linebacker Kirk Morrison was weighing his options, and eventually working out a deal last week to return to the Buffalo Bills, the club's defensive coordinator made it clear what the overall plan was.

"Coach (Dave Wannstedt) said, 'We know what we've got. And we know we have to get a pass rusher, and we're going into free agency to get one,' " the veteran linebacker explained.

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Soon enough, Morrison found out that the object of his team's affection just so happened to be one of the most high-profile free agents in NFL history. And when the news came down Thursday that Mario Williams was on board with a landmark, six-year deal worth up to $100 million, Morrison could barely contain his excitement.

But he wasn't nearly as surprised as the public that Williams would choose Buffalo. The move seems to parallel the one Reggie White made in signing with the Green Bay Packers in 1993. Back then, the Packers were a proud franchise that struggled to consistently compete. The Bills, who went went to four straight Super Bowls in the 1990s, haven't been to the playoffs since 1999 and are desperate to get back.

"A lot of times people hear 'Buffalo' and they assume things," Morrison told me. "Once you get to Buffalo, and you get to the stadium and go through the city, it changes your mind. You realize what you're here to do. You're here to play football, not mess with the extracurricular stuff. People said to me, 'Buffalo?' I'll tell you -- it's the best working environment I've been in.

"I was in Oakland, and you'd dread going into the facility there. You walk into the facility in Buffalo, and by the end of the day, you see that they have to drag guys out of there. With film study, team building, guys are involved, they're active. It's a family atmosphere. Guys go out to eat together, go bowling on Friday night. It catches you. You say, 'Football's my job, and this is where I can get it done.' "

Those words are similar, in so many ways, to those you hear from people in the Packers organization.

It appears that is the model in Buffalo now. Green Bay GM Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy use the term "Packer People," explaining that they look for a certain type of player to inhabit the roster. Morrison sees similar things brewing in Buffalo.

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"With the guys we have up front now, it's more than the players they are; it's the people they are," Morrison said. "Mario's a great guy. Marcell (Dareus) just wants to learn, he loves to ask questions, he loves to work. And Kyle (Williams) is a bulldog. You have guys that want to work hard like that, it makes it so much easier. I talked to (fellow linebacker) Nick Barnett this morning, and was saying that these are the kind of guys we want in front of us, and now it's up to us."

But as much as Morrison chose to focus on the "team" feel that's been building in Buffalo, he acknowledged the magnitude of this deal. "Mario's the face of the franchise now."

It's a lot to live up to. And that's the idea, with the Bills looking to ratchet up expectations for a team that's missed out on the postseason a dozen years running.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer

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