Manning over Mario Williams? Not on this free agent board

by | Senior NFL Columnist

Picking up Williams to bolster your defense is better than taking Manning on offense. (Getty Images)  
Picking up Williams to bolster your defense is better than taking Manning on offense. (Getty Images)  

Free agency begins Tuesday afternoon, with quarterback Peyton Manning at the top of nearly every board. Considering his resume, that makes sense, but this isn't about making sense. This is about making plays.

Which is why I'd put pass rusher Mario Williams ahead of him.

The reason: Let's start with his age. Williams is 27. Manning turns 36 in two weeks. I know Williams is coming off a torn pectoral that sidelined him for all but five games, but Manning is coming off neck surgeries so serious that he never suited up last year, which means he hasn't taken a snap since the 2010 season.

I know what I'm getting with Williams; I'm not sure with Manning. He could be one of the game's most accomplished quarterbacks, or he could be someone at or near the end of his career, one hit away from retirement.

But that's not all.

Williams is a pass rusher, and you can't have enough of them in today's game. The proof was Super Bowl XLVI, and the lesson we learned then is the lesson we learned four years earlier -- namely, a great pass rush trumps a great quarterback.

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There is no better quarterback in today's game than New England's Tom Brady, yet he's 0 for 2 in Super Bowls against the New York Giants' defense. That's not a coincidence; that is a trend.

Once upon a time we talked about "The Patriot Way," but it's time that should yield to "The Giant Way." I mean, if the NFL is a copycat league -- and it is -- why wouldn't you follow the Giants' lead and look for the best pass rusher out there and make him yours?

I don't care if you're set at the position. Neither did the Giants in 2010. They had two Pro-Bowl pass rushers, yet spent their first-round draft pick -- the 15th overall -- on Jason Pierre-Paul. The reason: They believed he could improve a pass rush that tied for 18th in 2009 when the Giants allowed more points than everyone but Detroit and St. Louis.

It was the same reason Chicago spent heavily on free-agent defensive end Julius Peppers. In a division with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, the Bears figured they had to squeeze the pocket to have a chance. So they signed the best pass rusher to a megabuck deal, won their division and came within a victory of the Super Bowl.

There's a moral there, people.

There is no better free-agent pass rusher in this class than Williams. He had five sacks in five games last season. He set a Houston record with 14 in 2007. He's a two-time All-Pro. And from 2006-10 he produced 33.6 percent of his team's sacks.

Only Dallas' DeMarcus Ware and the Colts' Robert Mathis were better, but there's a catch: Ware had pass rushers inside and out to complement him, and Mathis had Dwight Freeney. Williams was pretty much on his own, the only Texan to have six or more sacks in four consecutive seasons.

That's why I'd jump at the chance to sign the guy. I want to see what happens when he has playmakers around him. I saw what happened with the Giants' Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora, and maybe it happens with Williams.

All I know is that he's young, in the prime of his career and available. Plus, he fits the job description for anyone trying to recreate the Giants' success.

If you want to be Super Bowl worthy you better have a quarterback. But you better have a pass rush, too. Offenses sell tickets. Defenses win championships. And the New York Giants just won their second Super Bowl in four years with the best pass rush in the playoffs.

Remember that. Then move Mario Williams to the head of the class.


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