Bills taking odd risk in signing Williams

March, 12, 2014
Mar 12
12:35
PM ET
Chris WilliamsAP Photo/Tom GannamChris Williams started all 16 games last season for the St. Louis Rams.
Financial discipline? Not finding it here.

In their first signing of free agency, the Buffalo Bills overreached by signing former St. Louis Rams guard Chris Williams to a four-year contract. According to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, the deal totals $13.5 million with $5.5 million guaranteed.

Williams has done little to prove he should be a full-time starter in the NFL. He was largely considered a bust with the Chicago Bears, who drafted him 14th overall in 2008.

The Bears wanted him to be a stalwart at tackle. He wasn't. The Bears moved him to guard in 2010. That didn't work out either. In October 2012, after Williams sat as a healthy scratch for two games, the Bears released him.

Williams caught on with the Rams and started all 16 games at left guard last season. The analytics website ProFootballFocus.com graded him as the worst player on the Rams and as one of the worst guards in the NFL.

The Bills are all too familiar with sub-par guard play: Colin Brown was thrown around early last season before being released, while Doug Legursky was often undersized and over-matched at left guard. Simply put, they were in need of an upgrade.

But to "upgrade" doesn't mean to "overpay," and that's what the Bills are doing with Williams. The Bills are trying to correct one mistake with another. It comes off as an overreaction.

Williams would have been a solid addition as a backup along the offensive line. He could kick outside in a pinch and may have even been an upgrade over Thomas Welch as a swing tackle. He would have also been an upgrade at backup guard, where the Bills had little to offer last season.

As a starter, though? The Bills are taking a gamble, and if it doesn't work out, they're left with an overpaid lineman sitting on their bench.

It isn't shocking that the Bills wanted Williams. Coach Doug Marrone has expressed a desire to get bigger along the offensive line. Williams (6-foot-6, 326 pounds) fits that bill, but his size doesn't necessarily mean that he's a quality starter.

Still, general manager Doug Whaley deserves some benefit of the doubt. Last spring, he traded for Jerry Hughes -- a former draft bust with the Indianapolis Colts -- and Hughes turned into a plus pass-rusher for the Bills.

The difference is that by trading for Hughes, the Bills didn't inherit any financial risk from the Colts. Had Hughes flopped in Buffalo, they could have released him and avoided paying his $3.9 million base salary this season, with no dead money implications.

In Williams' case, the Bills are banking on the former first-round pick being an "ascending" player after descending for most of his career. If he isn't, they're out $5.5 million in guaranteed money.

Between Williams and Kraig Urbik, who was underwhelming last season, the Bills could be spending more than $6 million in cap space on their guards this season. Whaley has said he wants to "build along the lines," but paying guards is often less of a priority in the NFL than centers, tackles or defensive linemen.

All around, this one is just a head-scratcher.

Mike Rodak

ESPN Buffalo Bills reporter

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