|Mario Williams should help turn around a defense that ranked among the NFL's worst. (AP)|
When the Houston Texans chose defensive end Mario Williams over Reggie Bush with the first pick of the 2006 draft, they said it was for one reason -- Peyton Manning.
They wanted someone who could get to the Colts quarterback.
The idea made sense. You get to Manning, you get to the Colts. And if you get to the Colts, you get to the top of the division.
Now, six years later, Buffalo is doing the same thing with the same guy. With the addition of Williams, the Bills become more competitive -- which means the gap between them and everyone else in the AFC East just shrank.
I know, it still belongs to New England, but the Bills demonstrated they are serious about advancing in a division they once owned. And their chances just improved with the acquisition of the best free-agent defender on the market and, from where I sit, the best free agent, period.
Look, the Bills have had only one winning season since 1999 and have been stuck in the middle or bottom of the AFC East for the past 12 years. If their fans weren't tired of the experience, their general manager, Buddy Nix, was ... which is why he promised a big score early in free agency.
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He not only delivered, he hauled in the biggest catch not named Peyton Manning. And that should not only sell tickets, it should help Buffalo win more ballgames.
How many more I don't know. What's important is that Buffalo took a bold step to make itself better, and it's about time. The Bills knew that if they were going to do something other than finish 6-10 or 7-9 each season, they had to build a team to catch the people in front of them -- and you start with someone that has a stranglehold on your division.
That would be New England, and if you want to beat the Patriots, you get to their quarterback, Tom Brady. Not only is he the best quarterback in the business; he's 18-2 against Buffalo ... and that number alone tells you why Buffalo had to do something, anything, to defend the guy -- much as Houston did when it drafted Williams.
The Texans move then was controversial, but it played out. Williams was effective, and the Texans eventually found themselves at the top of the AFC South. Of course, it took losing Manning for Indianapolis to step aside, but Williams was the key part in the reconstruction of a defense that last season ranked second overall and launched the Texans to the playoffs for the first time in their history.
With Buffalo returning to a 4-3 defense, there was a need for a dependable end, but Williams is more, much more, than that. He's a premier player, a relentless pass-rusher who in the past five seasons averaged more sacks per game than everyone but Dallas' Demarcus Ware and the Vikings' Jared Allen.
I mention that because the Bills' pass rush needs help like Duff's needs celery and hot sauce. Buffalo last season ranked 27th in sacks per pass play, with rookie defensive tackle Marcell Dareus the team leader in that department with 5½.
The Bills were 28th against the run, 19th against the pass and 30th in points allowed, too, and, sorry, but none of those figures get you to the top -- especially when it's an elite quarterback who's there.
So you do what you can to correct them, and what the Buffalo Bills did was invite Williams to their complex and not let him go until he signed a six-year deal making him the highest-paid defensive player in league history.
Hey, whatever works. Buffalo had to do something to shake things up, and the Bills delivered the biggest hit of the week. So they spent a fortune. Big deal. They gained an All-Pro player who, at 27, is in the prime of his career and can help the club close the gap with the division leader.
That doesn't mean Buffalo is on New England's heels. I'm not saying that. Last time I checked, Brady was still standing, which means everyone else in the AFC East plays for second.
But Williams' addition strengthens a porous defense that Brady typically shreds, boosts the Bills' chances of advancing within the division and could, just could, act as a recruiting tool to attract more top-shelf talent to western New York.
I've seen it happen before. It might again.