Grantland: Free Agent Hype Chronicles: Mario Williams

Discussion in 'Texans Talk' started by Playoffs, Mar 1, 2012.

  1. Playoffs

    Playoffs Subscribed Contributor

    Apr 26, 2008
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    Free Agent Hype Chronicles: Mario Williams
    By Bill Barnwell on February 29, 2012 2:30 PM ET

    Disclaimer: This article is part of my series on free agency from the perspective of the agent, where I prepare Scott Boras-esque "books" that detail where each player stands in the marketplace and why he deserves as much of your team's money as possible. Normally, my goal is to use statistics and historical context to present the most accurate depiction of football that I can, but in this series, all I want to do is convince you to spend money on the player in question. As a result, I may include information or suggest comparisons that I don't necessarily agree with, just as an agent might try to play up his clients' strengths. Keep that in mind when you're reading. (For more on this, check out the Monday piece on Mike Wallace that started this series, and Tuesday's article covering Matt Flynn.)

    Once every few years, a game-changing pass-rusher hits the market and inspires his team to hit new defensive heights. Reggie White. Kevin Greene. Julius Peppers. Mario Williams is the next player in that group of legendary acquisitions, a one-man wrecking crew who carried a dormant Texans unit on his back for five seasons. And while those players were acquired after they had passed their athletic primes, Williams just turned 27 in January; he's about to hit his athletic peak. As the most well-rounded and versatile lineman in this year's class, Mario Williams is the sort of player that can make a bad defense good, a good defense great, and a great defense legendary. His combination of proven performance, elite athleticism, and room to grow with age makes him the most valuable defensive player to ever hit unrestricted free agency.

    The Preeminent Young Pass-Rusher

    Mario Williams creates havoc in the offensive backfield to an extent that only the best defenders in football can match. Unfortunately, because he hasn't had the players around him to complement that rare pass rushing ability, his performances haven't received the sort of notoriety that more prominent players have gotten. The Texans finally put together a secondary to take advantage of Williams' rushing ability in 2011, but after five sacks in five games, Williams suffered his only major injury as a pro, a torn pectoral muscle that sidelined him for the remainder of the season. If we put Williams' performance in context by accounting for that season and the players around him, a masterful pass-rusher is revealed.

    What's first impressive about Williams is how successful he has been without the presence of a second significant pass-rusher to play alongside him. Other pass-rushers who have hit free agency in recent years have had dynamic rushers on the other side of the field to take the heat away. Ray Edwards had Jared Allen, and Allen had Tamba Hali. Robert Mathis had Dwight Freeney. There was not a player of any note to operate across from Williams before 2011, and teams keyed on that fact by doubling Williams on virtually every single play.

    Despite those double-teams, though, Williams was still able to sack the quarterback at a truly impressive rate. From 2006 through 2010, the Texans sacked opposing passers 143 times. Williams had 48 of those sacks, accounting for more than one of every three Texans sacks by himself. Over that time frame, only two players produced a higher percentage of their team's sacks than Williams did:


    2006-10 Player Sacks Team Sacks Percentage
    1 DeMarcus Ware 72 207.5 34.7%
    2 Robert Mathis 48.5 144 33.7%
    3 Mario Williams 48 143 33.6%
    4 Jared Allen 63 190 33.2%
    5 John Abraham 49 154 31.8%
    6 Tamba Hali 41.5 136 30.5%
    7 Dwight Freeney 43 144 29.9%
    8 Julius Peppers 48.5 162.5 29.8%
    9 Aaron Kampman 44.5 172 25.9%
    10 Trent Cole 52 206 25.2%

    Williams was the only Texans player during that five-year stretch to produce six or more sacks in a season, something he did in four consecutive years. Other teams knew that he was coming and that he was the only person they really needed to worry about, and they still couldn't stop him. That says a lot about Williams' ability to be "the man" on a defense, the guy to whom the unit turns when they need a big play.

    What's even more incredible is that Williams was doing all this at a remarkably young age. For a 25-year-old to average nearly 10 sacks per season over a five-year stretch is nearly unprecedented. In fact, since the NFL started tracking sacks in 1983, only two players have accrued more sacks by the time they turned 26 than Mario Williams: Derrick Thomas and Dwight Freeney.


    Sacks by 26 Player Sacks
    1 Derrick Thomas 58
    2 Dwight Freeney 51
    3 Mario Williams 48
    4 Tim Harris 48
    5 Terrell Suggs 45
    6 Bruce Smith 44.5
    7 Simeon Rice 44
    8 Shawne Merriman 43.5
    9 Jared Allen 43
    10 Elvis Dumervil 43

    If you want to give Williams credit for that sack-per-game pace and suggest that he would have finished a fully healthy 2011 season with 16 sacks, that would give him a total of 64 sacks through the completion of his age-26 season. The only player with more sacks than that through 26 would be Thomas, and even he would only be two ahead of Williams.

    Let's include that 2011 season in the analysis, because once you account for the lost time, Williams' production just becomes all that much more impressive. Over the past five years, Mario Williams has sacked opposing quarterbacks 48.5 times in just 66 games. That's an average of 0.73 sacks per game, or just under 12 sacks per full season. It's a figure that's also only been topped by two players.


    2007-11 Player Team(s) Sacks per Game
    1 DeMarcus Ware DAL 1.00
    2 Jared Allen MIN/KC 0.99
    3 Mario Williams HOU 0.73
    4 James Harrison PIT 0.73
    5 Trent Cole PHI 0.71
    6 Osi Umenyiora NYG 0.71
    7 Elvis Dumervil DEN 0.71
    8 John Abraham ATL 0.70
    9 LaMarr Woodley PIT 0.69
    10 Dwight Freeney IND 0.66

    Hitting His Peak

    Furthermore, whichever team signs Mario Williams as he heads into free agency for the first time can expect to get a player at the top of his game, because elite pass-rushers peak at ages 26-28 before beginning a decline that becomes steep in their 30s. To test this, we took the top 50 pass-rushers (by career sacks) since the NFL started tracking the statistic and measured how many sacks they accrued per game at each age. (We assigned each season to a particular age by noting their birth date as of the opening game of the season.)


    Based on how those sack artists performed historically, they peaked at age 27 by sacking quarterbacks 0.71 times per game. Remember from the previous table that Williams has been sacking opposing quarterbacks at a slightly higher rate - 0.73 times per game - over the past five seasons, when he was 22-26. These dominant pass-rushers put up a roughly similar performance at ages 26 and 28 before beginning to decline thereafter.

    The real dropoff comes at age 32, when the top 50 pass-rushers average 0.53 sacks per game and never again approach an average above that half-sack-per-game figure. You'll note that the market's two other prominent defensive ends are 31-year-old Robert Mathis and 33-year-old John Abraham. Each of those players have likely already played his best football. Your team can lock up Mario Williams on a five-year deal and actually see him play out the entire contract before he can be expected to suffer any sort of serious decline.


    Mario Williams can do a lot of things. He can play as a defensive end in a 4-3. He can move to outside linebacker in a 3-4. He can play the run effectively. He can bounce to either side of the line. What your organization is going to pay Mario Williams to do, though, is rush the passer and create big plays for your defense. And when you put the numbers in their proper context, the only player in football who compares to Mario Williams as a young pass-rusher forced to go it alone is DeMarcus Ware. Other teams will get a veteran and hope that he hasn't lost it. Only one will get the sure thing, a superstar in the prime of his career.

    To be quite honest, Mario Williams shouldn't be a free agent. The Houston Texans failing to negotiate a contract extension with Williams before his deal expired will go down as one of the great mistakes in league history, like the Eagles failing to lock up Reggie White, or the Falcons letting Deion Sanders go. Their inability to lock up Williams with the franchise tag is going to be a franchise-defining moment for two teams: the Texans and whatever team is lucky enough to add the most valuable defender in the history of free agency to their roster.

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    cbs1507 likes this.
  2. redwhiteblue

    redwhiteblue Veteran

    Oct 24, 2011
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    Sure would be nice to have Mario next year when we play Green Bay, New England, Detroit and Baltimore
    thunderkyss likes this.
  3. msbbc833

    msbbc833 Veteran

    Nov 11, 2011
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    Can someone explain why the Texans did not lock him up last year?
  4. Dutchrudder

    Dutchrudder King of the Potato People

    Jan 25, 2010
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    You probably have to ask Rick Smith or Mario's agent to know that. I imagine Mario was happy to make 18.25 million and didn't want to change that.
  5. cbs1507

    cbs1507 Veteran

    Nov 22, 2011
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    I'm sure you could do that, BUT Rick Smith couldn't talk to Mario's agent because of the LOCKOUT. Of course he was probably happy with the $18 million seeing that he signed a 6 year $54 million contract and received 33% of that LAST YEAR (18/54). Not to mention he had no signing bonus his rookie contract.
  6. dalemurphy

    dalemurphy Hall of Fame

    May 3, 2004
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    Sure. They don't believe in him... just as I don't.
  7. run-david-run

    run-david-run Hall of Fame

    Sep 3, 2005
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    The University of Texas
    He was coming off a second injury-hit year, was changing positions, was part of a historically bad D (why spend 18 million on someone when, even if they play at an exceptional level, the D is far below average) and the lockout all played a role.
    TejasTom likes this.
  8. Thorn

    Thorn Dirty Old Man

    Apr 14, 2007
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    I would love to have Mario back, but we can live without him.
  9. TejasTom

    TejasTom Site Contributor

    Nov 10, 2010
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    They could have talked to him during the season.

    These are all good reasons. Now he is coming off his 3rd injury-hit year and even if he plays at an exceptional level, the D can only improve marginally.
  10. Rey

    Rey Guest

    Mar 7, 2010
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    The article raises some good points, but they added a bit too much sauce to the commentary.

    I'd love to have Mario back...I really hope they get a deal done in fact. But if we just can't make it happen, I'll be ok.

  11. ArlingtonTexan

    ArlingtonTexan Moderator Staff Member

    May 3, 2004
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    This guy went far to the Mario Williams side as one could go. When i have read posts on other boards, the rank and file NFL fan is not clamoring for Mario Williams to come in because he is the next Reggie White. Especially, for the best pass rusher in free agency, he does not generate the buzz that even Peppers did a couple years back. While the stats are there, and he better than most of the league, williams does not past the eye test as near all time great like this is trying to sell.
  12. gary

    gary Hall of Fame

    Mar 12, 2006
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    A team in need of a pass rusher will pay big money because Mario is the best free agent pass rusher this year. The same way Finnegan will get paid because he is a top free agent CB this year just like Grimes and Mathis. So much about free agency has to do with just being lucky by coming out in a year where you might be the best overall but the best choice that year.
  13. b0ng

    b0ng Bad Hombre

    Jul 21, 2007
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    I have no idea where you are reading, but boards in Jacksonville, Seattle, and damn near every other team that isn't having cap issues are all falling over themselves trying to find any positive news piece (in their mind) that Williams will become a free agent.

    If he hits the market he's going to be the top story in free agency until he is signed, and probably a little bit after that.

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