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Bills sending a message by signing Mario

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Posted: Sunday, March 18, 2012 1:20 am

OK, so the biggest benefit the Buffalo Bills got from their inspired signing of defensive end Mario Williams was acquiring one of the NFL’s premier pass rushers.

After all, the 6-foot-7, 290-pound former Houston Texan has averaged 10 sacks in his five-plus NFL seasons and comes to a team in desperate need of a pass rush.

Last season, Buffalo totaled 29 sacks — tied for third-fewest in the league — but even that’s deceptive. Nine of them came against the pathetic Redskins, meaning the Bills totaled 20 in the other 15 games.

Their leading sacker — with 5.5 on the season — was Marcell Dareus, a defensive tackle ... hardly the position you’d expect to be depending upon to dump quarterbacks.

But there’s more to this signing that merely filling a need.

BUFFALO was Williams’ first stop and you had the idea had he left without a contract and headed to the cities of other potential suitors, it would have been  another, “Nice try, but...”

Instead, he was in Western New York for parts of three days, introduced his fiancée to the region’s culture and topography and got a heavy sales pitch from general manager Buddy Nix, coach Chan Gailey, Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly and Pro Bowl-level Bills’ defensive tackle  Kyle Williams.

And they sold him.

There was no, “I’ve got other teams that are interested and I’ll get back to you.”

He took his first offer, albeit an incredibly generous one — a six-year nearly $100 million deal with $50 million  guaranteed — making him the highest paid defender in the National Football League.

So much for the mantra about 93-year-old owner Ralph Wilson’s unwillingness to spend.

Maybe Williams was sold on the sincerity of Nix and Gailey.

Even the cynical Bills’ media consider those two to be the cliched “straight shooters.”

Maybe Williams liked the smaller town atmosphere and just never was looking for a big city.

In any case, he’s the most significant free agent signing in Bills history, exceeding even the acquisition of outside linebacker Bryce Paup in 1995, a player who logged 17 1/2 sacks his first season in Buffalo and was selected the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year.

WHAT’S CERTAIN is that this contract is personal vindication to the critics who absolutely trashed then-Texans general manager Charley Casserly — now a broadcaster — for daring to take the former North Carolina star with 2008’s No. 1 overall pick  instead of the most glitzy choice on the shelf, USC’s Heisman Trophy-winning running back, Reggie Bush.

How does that selection look now?

Williams is one of the league’s eminent defenders ... and absolutely the highest-paid.

Bush is a third-down specialist with modest career numbers and some embarrassing character issues.

BUT THERE’S more to this signing than the acquisition of a quality performer who answers Buffalo’s biggest position of need.

There’s that obvious message to the fans.

Playing the role of cynic, the Bills had to spend money to make it.

Season ticket sales had plummeted the last two years and adding a major talent is a fast way to stop the bleeding.

Plus, Wilson offered his own logic.

He told the Buffalo News, “I don’t give a darn about the money. I can’t take the money with me.

 “I feel like we’re not that far away. We owe it to Buffalo, the fans of Western New York and everybody, to make the move. (So) let’s get going.”

He added, “I’d like to see us make the playoffs and possibly the Super Bowl while I’m around. I don’t expect to be around for that many years.”

It’s a morbid thought ... but great news for Bills fans who have now gone a dozen seasons without a sniff of the post-season.

THE POINT is,  this isn’t like the signings of Derrick Dockery and Langston Walker in 2007, two barely mediocre offensive linemen for whom the Bills drastically overpaid.

Williams is a difference-maker and even should the unthinkable happen and the money deprives him of his fire and productivity — which it won’t — his mere signing sent a great message to Bills’ fans.

Their team is willing to spend what it takes to be relevant ... and you can’t put a price tag on that.

(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at cpollock@oleantimesherald.com)

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