Buffalo shook the core of the NFL's free agency period Thursday by reaching a deal with Mario Williams, who was the biggest prize on the defensive market. Williams instantly legitimizes the Bills' line, which was loaded in the middle but needed a serious upgrade at end.
The Bills made some strides last season when they jumped out to a 3-0 start with a victory against the Patriots. They were tied for first as late as Week 8 when they were 5-2, but injuries and poor play caused Buffalo to lose eight of its last nine games and finish in last place for the fourth consecutive season.
Signing Williams doesn't make the Bills immediate contenders, but it's a really good start. And because their defensive line also includes defensive tackles Kyle Williams and Marcel Dareus, the Bills are going to be a rusty nail in the rear end of opposing offenses.
Dareus led the Bills in 2011 with 5.5 sacks, but no other true defensive lineman even reached three sacks (hybrid edge rusher Chris Kelsay had five sacks). As a whole, the Bills' 29 sacks were tied for the third fewest in the league last year. With the addition of Williams, as well as the 10th overall pick in April's draft, the Bills have obviously made an upgrade in free agency and could add another talented defensive end early next month.
Williams hasn't always been a one-man wrecking crew. He had 26 sacks combined in 2007 and 2008, but those are the only two seasons in his six-year career in which he's eclipsed the 10-sack mark. However, his 53 sacks since 2006 are the ninth most in the NFL.
Williams is a complete defensive end, though, and he might be playing on the best front of his career, which could amp up his own production along with his teammates' output. The problem, though, is the Bills still need to make some real upgrades in the secondary to become a more complete defense. Now, with Williams in tow, they've got more of a recruiting tool to make that happen.
The Patriots' competition in the AFC East has been busy this offseason, with the Bills' addition of Williams and the Dolphins' high-profile courtship of quarterback Peyton Manning (as well as a nice backup plan with Matt Flynn). But for the time being, Tom Brady and company should do whatever they can over the next few months to keep their minds off their two meetings with the Bills in 2012.