Add Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (article via Conor Orr of NFL.com) to the chorus of voices who believe Mario Williams‘ time with the Bills could be up at the end of the season. Rapoport says there is a “clear, fundamental disconnect” between head coach Rex Ryan and his defensive line, and Williams could be at the heart of the trouble.
Williams has been relatively vocal about his dissatisfaction with Ryan’s scheme, which has been largely ineffective this season. Indeed, the Bills’ defense under Ryan has regressed in almost every way from one year ago, when the unit was led by Jim Schwartz, who is reportedly missed by a number of the team’s defensive players. But Williams’ displeasure may now be manifesting itself in other ways, as ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweets that Williams missed a team meeting this week and blamed illness for his absence, which not everyone believed.
Williams’ frustration, of course, is understandable. He is playing under a new defensive coordinator for the sixth straight year, and under Ryan’s 3-4 defense, he has been asked to do a great deal more than simply rush the passer. Although Ryan’s scheme is similar to the one that Mike Pettine deployed when he served as the Bills’ defensive coordinator several seasons ago, it is clear that Williams has struggled to adapt. His run defense has been mediocre, he has not looked especially good when dropping into coverage, and his pass rush numbers are way down. After posting double-digit sack totals in each of the last three years, Williams has just four sacks this season.
Adding to Williams’ discontent is the fact that he was probably viewing the 2015 season as a contract year, even though he is technically under club control for two more seasons. As is typically the case with mega-deals like the six-year, $96MM pact Williams signed with the Bills prior to the 2012 season, no one really expected Williams to play out the life of his contract without at least some sort of restructure. As former NFL agent Joel Corry tweets, Williams would carry a cap hit of $19.9MM in 2016, a number that is especially onerous for Buffalo, which will have over $146MM in cap obligations. Williams was always going to be a cut or restructure candidate, and at this point, it looks far more likely that he will be cut. After all, it much easier for the Bills to move on from Williams than it is for them to move on from Ryan.
But even though Williams will be on the wrong side of 30 when the 2016 season begins, Rapoport expects him to generate a great deal of interest on the open market, just like Julius Peppers did several seasons ago (Twitter link). Given Williams’ track record–he has compiled 95 sacks over his ten-year career–it will be relatively easy for him to convince other clubs that his disappointing 2015 season was due primarily to scheme rather than a diminishing skill set.