Here are three questions that stood out in my mind when I saw the signing come across the NFL Network ticker:
1) Why was it important for the Bills to sign Mario Williams?
The Bills have been clamoring for star power on the defensive side of the ball, and Williams has shown flashes of emerging as one of the most dynamic defenders in the league. He will be the first dominant edge rusher to occupy the right defensive end spot since Bruce Smith departed following the 1999 season.
In Williams, the Bills are picking up a six-year veteran with 53 career sacks, including a pair of double-digit seasons (14 and 12) that announced his arrival as one of the league's premier pass rushers. He has certainly lived up to the hype that accompanied his surprise selection as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 draft. As colleague Charley Casserly told me on the NFL Draft Tracker podcast, Williams is certainly worthy of this huge payday, considering his age (27), production, athleticism and skill set.
At 6-foot-6 and 284 pounds with long arms and big hands, Williams excels at playing with power off the edge. He routinely forklifts offensive tackles at the point of attack and uses his superior strength and leverage to walk them back into the quarterback. Williams also displays cat-like quickness and athleticism, blowing past blockers on speed rushes. His ability to bend the corner following his third step is unusual for a bigger man; his extraordinary balance and body control allow him to routinely execute the maneuver.
In addition, he has shown the athleticism and movement skills to rush from an upright position off the edge. More importantly, his experience playing outside linebacker in the 3-4 will allow the Bills to use him in a variety of roles in their sub-packages.
For a team that has desperately sought a legitimate pass rusher for years, the addition of Williams fills a huge void on defense.
2) How does this impact the rest of the Bills' defense?
The acquisition of Williams helps the Bills transition into a 4-3 under new defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt. The right defensive end position is critical to the success of the scheme, due to the need to generate pressure on the quarterback's blind side (most quarterbacks are right-handed). Williams is the ideal rusher to occupy that spot on the defense with his combination of size, speed and athleticism. His length and quickness pose problems for lumbering edge blockers, while his ability to turn speed into power overwhelms offensive tackles with questionable balance and body control.
With Williams aligned on the defensive right, Marcell Dareus and Chris Kelsay should enjoy more isolated matchups on passing downs. Dareus, in particular, should benefit from the attention directed towards Williams. As the one- or three-technique aligned over the top of the guard, he will have the opportunity to work on his opponent's edges without having to worry about fending off assistance from an additional blocker. Given Dareus' ability to lead the team with 5.5 sacks while receiving little help from his teammates, the addition of Williams to the lineup could lead to defensive fireworks.
The presence of Williams along the line also will help the Bills' ball-hawking secondary generate more turnovers. The unit tied for sixth in the NFL with 20 interceptions last season, and they should see more errant passes head their direction with Williams and Co. generating a consistent pass rush up front.
3) What does this mean for the rest of the AFC East?
The Williams signing gives the Bills arguably the best defense in the division. While the New York Jets certainly will take umbrage with that statement based on their outstanding secondary, the Bills now have a defense that features playmakers on every level. From Williams and Dareus controlling the line of scrimmage to Nick Barnett and Jairus Byrd making critical plays in the back seven, the Bills have a deep and talented lineup that can thrive against any offensive style.
In the AFC East, the unit has to match up against the New England Patriots' diversified attack. The Pats place a premium on spreading the field with multiple formations and personnel groupings, while using the short passing game to stretch the defense horizontally. After watching the New York Giants' front four throttle the attack in Super Bowl XLVI, the Bills now have the capability of using a similar approach in a pair of division games.
For the Miami Dolphins and Jets, the Bills' revamped defense now possesses a front line to control the game in the trenches, neutralizing both teams' ground-based attacks. The size and athleticism of the defensive line can create penetration at the point, allowing the linebackers to flow freely to the ball.
Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks