When linebacker-end Mario Williams signed a six-year contract Thursday with the Buffalo Bills worth $100 million, $50 million guaranteed, he became the highest-paid defensive player in league history. Williams' mega-deal followed by one day the $132 million contract the Detroit Lions gave their star receiver, Calvin Johnson.
Johnson's haul is the most for any NFL player at any position.
Other than Peyton Manning, whose search for a new team continues, Williams was the most sought free agent in this year's class; Johnson already was under contract in Detroit.
"It's one of those things you don't get many chances like this, and opportunities to come in and be the guy who can help the team get across the hump," said Williams, who was in Buffalo since the free agency period opened Tuesday, having been flown in from his home in North Carolina. "And that's definitely what I'm here for. My whole intention is to come here, work with guys like Kyle (Williams) and (Marcell) Dareus and make this thing happen."
The first overall draft pick by Houston in 2006, Williams became a pass rushing force and all-around standout at end before moving to linebacker in the Texans' new 3-4 alignment last year. But he played only five games in 2011 before a torn chest muscle sidelined him.
Buffalo targeted Williams to upgrade a defense that ranked 26th overall and 28th against the run. The Bills had only 29 sacks last year; Williams has 53 for his career.
"Ben comes to us from an offense in Baltimore that experienced a lot of success, both running the football and in pass protection," Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said. "He was a big part of that and we believe that he can come right in and fit into our program without missing a beat."
Another offensive lineman switching teams was Steve Hutchinson, a five-time All Pro with seven Pro Bowls who left Minnesota for Tennessee. Hutchinson changed teams as a free agent once before, in 2006 when he left Seattle for the Vikings. The Seahawks gave him a transition designation, but then couldn't match the deal he got with Minnesota, which included stipulations the Seahawks couldn't handle under the salary cap.
San Diego bolstered its receiving corps by adding Eddie Royal in a three-year agreement. The fifth-year receiver also is a solid punt returner.
Safety Brodney Pool took a one-year deal with Dallas, which has been busy in free agency despite losing $10 million in salary cap space over the next two seasons for overspending in the uncapped 2010 season. Pool joins cornerback Brandon Carr, quarterback Kyle Orton, fullback Lawrence Vickers and offensive lineman Mackenzy Bernadeau with the Cowboys.
"Obviously we've taken a big step," Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said. "Getting the cap hit, you have to deal with it and there's ramifications of that, but it's not going to stop us from being able to do the things we have to do to be a championship-caliber football team in 2012."
But the Redskins will be taking a $36 million salary cap hit over the next two years, so any future spending is problematic.
Chicago re-signed defensive end Israel Idonije for one year. He had five sacks last season after contributing eight in 2010, his first year as a starter.
Defensive end Frostee Rucker left Cincinnati for Cleveland and a five-year, $21 million contract. Rucker had his best season in 2011 with a career-high four sacks in 11 starts.
Browns President Mike Holmgren told season ticket holders his team's trade proposal to St. Louis for the No. 2 overall draft pick, which the Rams turned down to deal with Washington, was "every bit the offer" as the Redskins made. Like Washington, Cleveland was interested in Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III of Baylor.