Mario Williams was made the NFL’s first $100 million defender by the Buffalo Bills.
He’s the biggest offseason free agent acquisition in team history and made the most stunning free agency decision since Reggie White gave the Green Bay Packers a shot.
That got me thinking. How have other major pass-rushing signings ultimately fared on their new teams?
Let’s take a look…
Charles Haley to Dallas Cowboys—1992
Haley is as far back as I’m going. He was an integral facet of the Super Bowl-winning San Francisco 49ers teams of the late 1980s. He even totaled 16 sacks in 1990. After a conflict with then-head coach George Seifert, Haley was traded to the Dallas Cowboys. He went on to be instrumental in the Cowboys’ early 1990s dynasty, which included three Super Bowl victories. This James Madison star had 10 sacks combined in 1992 and 1993 but exploded with 12.5 in 1994 and added 10.5 more in 1995. All in all, a move that undoubtedly worked out. However, the “Big Three” of Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin was the biggest reason why Dallas captured three titles. Haley was 28 when he was traded to Big D.
Reggie White to Green Bay Packers—1993
Although the Packers were one of the NFL’s most revered franchises, they were struggling and played in the middle of nowhere in a place known for its unbearable winters. White was a terror in the late 1980s and early 1990s with the Eagles. He amassed an absolutely ridiculous 124 sacks in eight seasons with Philly. Many were floored when the future Hall of Famer signed with Green Bay. He inked a four-year, $17 million deal, which at the time, was unprecedented for a defensive player. Although he never again took down quarterbacks at the alarming rate he did while in the City of Brotherly Love, the 32-year-old did have a profound impact on a swift culture change in Green Bay. Coupled with the addition of Brett Favre, the Packers became a force in the NFC. They won the NFC Central division in 1995 for the first time since 1972 and went on to win the Super Bowl in the winter of 1996.White accumulated another 68.5 sacks during his six-year stay with the Pack and made Green Bay, Wisconsin one of the most unlikely desirable destinations in the NFL.
Simeon Rice to Tampa Bay Buccaneers—2001
Rice was the Buccaneers’ shiny free agent signee in 2001 after his 51.5 sacks in five years with the Arizona Cardinals made him one of the NFL’s premier pass-rushers. With the Buccaneers came more success, which made sense, because the 27-year-old Rice was entering the prime of his career. He had double-digit sacks in five straight seasons with Tampa Bay and totaled 67.5 sacks during that stretch. In his first year with the team, the Buccaneers won the Super Bowl. Another success story.
John Abraham to Atlanta Falcons—2006
Abraham was an underrated edge rusher with the New York Jets during the early stages of the 2000s. In six years with Gang Green, he had 53.5 sacks. Like many of the guys on this list, he too was traded in the prime of his career at only 28-years-old. The Jets got a first-round pick in exchange for him. Ever since he’s stepped foot in Atlanta, this former South Carolina Gamecock standout has been the focal point of the Falcons defense. He was injured in 2006 and totaled only four sacks, but he set a career high with 16.5 quarterback takedowns in 2008 after a 10-sack 2007. Unfortunately, during that period, his team didn’t accomplish much. The acquisition of Matt Ryan can be seen as the move that had the most dramatic affect on the franchise’s upward turn. After a down year in 2009, he returned to form with 13 more sacks in 2010 and 9.5 in 2011.
Jared Allen to Minnesota Vikings—2008
Following an explosive 15.5-sack season in 2007 with the Kansas City Chiefs, Jared Allen became the team’s franchise player. After that, he was traded to the Minnesota Vikings for a first-round pick and two third-round picks. Allen was only 26 when the deal went down. We all know what he’s done since he’s put on the Vikings’ helmet. His “worst” season was in 2010 when he finished the year with “only” 11 sacks. During the 2009 run to the NFC Championship game, Allen was a total monster with 14.5 sacks, five forced fumbles and even an interception. Since then, the Vikings haven’t been in NFC contention, but Allen has certainly done his job. He led the NFL with 22 sacks in 2011.
Julius Peppers to Chicago Bears—2010
The 30-year-old Peppers inked a nice little six-year, $84 million deal with the Chicago Bears during the free agent signing period of 2010. This came after he established himself as one of the most ferocious and athletically gifted pass-rushers of his time with the Carolina Panthers. Peppers had 81 sacks in his first eight seasons as a professional. Since joining the Bears, he’s sacked opposing quarterbacks 19 times and makes a magnificent impact on every snap because of the rare combination of size and speed he possesses. The Bears made the NFC Championship in Peppers’ first season with the team, but injuries to Jay Cutler and Matt Forte severely hindered and ultimately ended their 2011 playoff hopes.
Conclusion: A dominant pass-rusher doesn’t guarantee a Super Bowl—obviously, an efficient offense is needed, too. But as this list clearly notes, acquiring a premier edge rusher in his prime has paid off in a huge way for every team that has made the big-time move.
Fantastic news for the Buffalo Bills and Mario Williams.