On the surface, Williams has the résumé and talent to be a good addition to Miami’s defense. But looking deeper presents an important question: Are the Dolphins taking on too many defensive reclamation projects at once?
Williams is the third defensive starter the Dolphins have acquired the past two days. They also agreed to a pending trade with the Philadelphia Eagles for linebacker Kiko Alonso and cornerback Byron Maxwell, which will be made official when the new league year begins Wednesday. The key thing Williams, Alonso and Maxwell all have in common is that they performed well below expectations in 2015.
Williams registered just five sacks with the Buffalo Bills last year. The conventional thinking is Williams wasn’t a good fit for coach Rex Ryan’s 3-4 scheme. But what if the 31-year-old simply hit a wall, and Williams is no longer the fierce pass-rusher he was in his prime? Next season, the Dolphins could have two starting defensive ends -- Williams and Cameron Wake -- who are 31 and 34, respectively.
Maxwell and Alonso also are coming off two of the worst seasons of their careers with the Eagles. Maxwell struggled in his role as the team’s No. 1 cornerback after signing a $63 million contract, and Alonso, who battled multiple knee injuries the past two years, recorded a career-low 43 tackles last season. The Dolphins are counting on both, and there are no guarantees that either player will have a bounce-back season.
Three years ago, a defense that included Williams, Maxwell and Alonso would have been considered a stacked and star-studded group. But that is far from the case in 2016. Each member of Miami’s new trio comes to South Florida with a lot to prove. The Dolphins showed their faith this offseason in hopes that it will be rewarded during the regular season.
There is reason to be optimistic about Williams. In 2013 and 2014, he posted double-digit sacks in a 4-3 defense. Williams should be more comfortable playing in Miami’s 4-3 scheme under new defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, who will be tasked with coaching Alonso and Maxwell to reach their potential.
Ideally for the Dolphins, Williams, Maxwell and Alonso will all immediately revert back to the great players they once were, and they will help turn Miami's 25th-ranked defense around. But the chances of that happening are not very high.
A more realistic expectation would be for the Dolphins to have two of these three come back strong in 2016. Miami must hope it didn't strike out all three times with risky defensive additions.