By Brady Henderson
The Seahawks, with money to spend and a need for a pass-rusher, have been considered a strong possibility for free-agent defensive end Mario Williams.
With free agency beginning Tuesday, ESPN’s John Clayton told “Brock and Salk” on Monday that he thinks Seattle and Atlanta are the favorites to sign Williams. Clayton’s reasoning is based on his belief that whatever deal Williams signs will be worth as much as $15 million per year, a price that could be untenable for teams that would have to pay Williams that much to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.
Mario Williams has 53 sacks in six NFL seasons. (AP)
“If you’re going to be going for Mario Williams, the best value is to put him on the line of scrimmage and have him rush as a 4-3 defensive end. That’s the way the league goes,” Clayton said. “You don’t see $15 million linebackers. … I think that when you look at the value, he’s going to be more valuable to a 4-3 team, and the two 4-3 teams that appear to have either the most money or the most interest are Atlanta and Seattle.”
Williams moved from defensive end to outside linebacker last season when new coordinator Wade Phillips brought his 3-4 scheme to Houston, racking up five sacks in as many games before he was lost for the season with a pectoral injury. In five previous seasons, while playing defensive end in a 4-3, Williams had 48 sacks and made two Pro Bowls.
The Falcons, who will run a 4-3 next season under new coordinator Mike Nolan, have yet to re-sign some of their own higher-priced free agents. They added former Seahawks linebacker Lofa Tatupu over the weekend, giving them a less expensive alternative to incumbent starter Curtis Lofton, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent.
Atlanta also gave a modest contract to defensive end Kroy Biermann. That move that could indicate a willingness to not re-sign their sack leader, John Abraham, who is a free agent and has said he wants a deal that pays him $12 million a season.
“It just seems to me, looking at how Atlanta is doing their business, particularly with the Lofa Tatupu signing, that they’re trying to at least keep enough money on the table to try to make a run at Mario Williams,” Clayton said.
Williams, 27, could fill one of Seattle’s most glaring needs. The Seahawks finished with the league’s No. 7 scoring defense last season despite not generating much of pass-rush. Chris Clemons had 11 sacks, but the rest of the team added just 22. The Seahawks’ 33 sacks put them in a tie for 19th in the league.
Adding Williams wouldn’t necessarily preclude the Seahawks from re-signing defensive end Red Bryant. Clayton said negotiations with Bryant will continue.
“They’re making a very generous offer but it’s still not what he wants,” Clayton said. “Maybe Red’s thinking that there is going to be the big free-agent money out there — maybe he can make $8 million to $10 million [a year]. If he’s going to make $8 million to $10 million, it’s not going to be in Seattle.”