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Thursday, March 15, 2012
Four questions, answers on Mario Williams

By James Walker

The Buffalo Bills made the biggest splash so far in free agency by signing former Houston Texans defensive end Mario Williams to a six-year, $100 million contract. Williams is a game-changer who will greatly improve Buffalo’s anemic pass rush.

Here are four questions and answers on the signing:

1. Does this make Buffalo a contender?

Too early to say. Free agency just started and the draft is next month. A lot of teams will get better and some will get worse by the end of April. Williams is a big difference-maker. But right now, the New England Patriots are still my early pick to win the AFC East. The Williams signing makes perfect sense, but the Bills still have work to do at left tackle, receiver, cornerback and overall depth. Second place in the AFC East is wide open. With the way things are going with the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins -- unless Peyton Manning saves them -- the Bills are making a strong push to end their 13-year playoff drought. But let's see what happens the rest of this offseason.

2. How good is the defense with Williams?

Buffalo's defense was ranked No. 26 last year. So there is a long way to elite status. But Williams solves two of Buffalo's biggest defensive issues: He improves the pass rush and sets the edge against the run. I don't know who Buffalo's other defensive end will be. But with Williams, Marcell Dareus and a healthy Kyle Williams, it's safe to say the Bills will have one of the league's more dominant defensive lines. Buffalo will not be pushed around this season, and I like the switch to a 4-3 defense. If the Bills make additional improvements at linebacker and corner and everyone stays healthy, they have the potential to be a top-10 or top-12 defense next season.

3. Was $100 million too much?

 This question will linger. But here is the blunt truth: Buffalo had no choice. There is a reason it took three days of courting and convincing. The Bills are not a winning franchise and had to talk with their checkbook. The Bills were willing to pay more to get Williams, because if they didn't or all things were equal, Williams probably would have joined another team. The Bills proved that money still talks. Did they overpay? It depends on how well Williams performs the next several years. But Buffalo's goal was to get the best pass-rusher on the market and the team accomplished that goal.

4. How does this impact the draft?

 I don't think it impacts Buffalo's draft plans all that much. The Bills can still go in a variety of ways, and adding to the front seven on defense is still a possibility. For example, Williams is going to get a lot of double-teams. Therefore, the Bills will need another threat opposite Williams. Can Buffalo rely on Shawne Merriman, who suffered a season-ending Achilles injury last year? Should the Bills draft a player such as South Carolina's Melvin Ingram or Courtney Upshaw from Alabama at No. 10? The Bills can go in a lot of different ways to either help build the offense with early picks or build around Williams.