Cowboys: Could Mario Williams Improve Pass Rush?

Buffalo Bills defensive end Mario Williams (94). Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Buffalo Bills defensive end Mario Williams (94). Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports /

The Dallas Cowboys could move on from defensive end Greg Hardy in favor of Buffalo Bills defensive lineman Mario Williams if the $100 million player is cut.

With the offseason underway earlier than expected for the Dallas Cowboys, there’s obviously a lengthy list of questions to be answered following a miserable 4-12 2015 campaign that earned the franchise the fourth-overall selection in the 2016 NFL Draft next April.

Among the biggest questions to be answered is what exactly to do with defensive end Greg Hardy. Having just completed a one-year, incentive-laden contract, it’s unclear whether or not the Cowboys intend to engage further in the highly controversial figure who gained fame on the field with the Carolina Panthers previously.

In the event owner and general manager Jerry Jones decides to move on, a distinct probability if history is any indication, there’s perhaps a better route to go.

Mario Williams was a standout defensive lineman at North Carolina State that was actually the first-overall selection in the 2006 NFL Draft. The Houston Texans drafted Williams, nicknamed ‘Super Mario,’ to become the face of the franchise on defense, an idea that never really came to fruition.

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Williams was in no way a bust – he logged 26 sacks in his second and third seasons before regressing somewhat in 2009 and 2010. Former Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips would end up heading south to Houston in 2011 to become defensive coordinator, along with his antiquated 3-4 scheme. Let’s just say that moving a 6’6” and 290-pound lineman to outside linebacker didn’t pan out so well.

Williams only played in five games in Phillips’ 3-4, yet he still still averaged a sack per game.

Nonetheless, the Texans were done with Williams after that season and the former No.1 pick was off to join the Buffalo Bills as an unrestricted free agent for the 2012 season.

As of now, it must seem like déjà vu for Williams. He played in all 16 games for the Bills during the first three seasons of his second-career six-year contract. From ’12 through 2014, ‘Super Mario’ was quite super in chalking up 10.5, 13.0 and 14.5 sacks, respectively.

But then came former New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan to Buffalo – and the 3-4 alignment once again.

Clear is the fact that Williams’ best traits aren’t going to be utilized in the 3-4 scheme, especially without lots of additional pass rushers to help guarantee single match ups. If Williams plays the 3-4 defensive end position, he’s likely to get doubled by a stud offensive tackle and a guard on many plays. At outside linebacker, at least in Ryan’s scheme, Williams doesn’t like dropping into coverage so much, and you can’t really blame him for that.

You don’t pay Williams to cover running backs in the flat. You pay him to sack quarterbacks and blow up plays in the backfield from time to time.

nonetheless, it appears that the Bills are ready to cut their losses with Williams sooner than later.

Williams belongs at either defensive end or maybe even defensive tackle in a 4-3 alignment – exactly what the Cowboys have been running again since Ryan’s brother, Rob, effectively killed the scheme in Dallas after the ’12 season.

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So, what about Williams in Dallas?

I suppose that dollars and cents would be the big question, although I’m not sure that I see any team inking this still-capable rusher to another six-year contract upwards of nine figures. If I’m the Cowboys, I’m interested in Williams at a guarantee of under $40 million for no more than 3-4 years, tops. Turning 31 years-old at the end of January, Williams still looks like a stud rushing the quarterback, but for how long is the big question.

Then again, with all this talk of winning a Super Bowl with Tony Romo still starting at quarterback, a prospect that’s looking more and more unlikely at this point, it might make sense to add Williams. Just for fun, consider the possibility of having Hardy and Williams up on the line with young pass rushers like Demarcus Lawrence and still-developing Randy Gregory as part of a devastating rotation.

A move like this would certainly give defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli some incredible creativity when rushing on obvious passing downs. Hardy is capable of playing in the interior and I think that Williams could do the same, and especially given the fact that Williams is a few inches taller than Hardy and he might have 20 additional pounds to bring.

For all the Cowboys did during the ’15 offseason to bolster a pass rush that was again too inconsistent at times, it’s possible that the Cowboys allow Hardy to walk away and ignore Williams for any number of reasons.

Then again, you know how Jones loves to make a free-agent splash when he can.

The Cowboys defense has needs that go beyond just defensive linemen, but anytime your deep end is stronger and more talented than your opponent’s, you’re going to win most of your games. Adding Williams would also free up the Cowboys to go for more of a ‘best player available’ route in the 2016 NFC Draft while addressing other areas, like linebacker or safety – or franchise quarterback in the first round.

Next: Johnny Manziel To Dallas Cowboys Will Happen

Williams could be a huge addition for the Cowboys, but will he?

Stay tuned.