Testing the Free Agent Waters

The Texans are once again involved in free agency talks again, but this time, they could be on the losing end. Houston, however, is used to losing players to free agency, but have yet to lose a player of such a beloved status, that player has sort of gone under the radar all six years of his young career; and that player is defensive end turned linebacker, Mario Williams. Williams, a very notable and controversial draft pick by the Texans back in 2006, a year where the Texans had the first round pick and had an abundance of talent to choose from, many highly coveted players were all available for the Texans and many people speculated who the Texans were going to take.

One player was in-state favorite, Houston hero, BCS National Championship winner, and two time Rose Bowl Most Valuable Player, star quarterback from the University of Texas, Vince Young, a player many speculated that the Texans would draft after their last quarterback, former first round draft pick, David Carr turn out to be a bust. Carr, in his short tenure with Houston, broke the record for most times sacked, a blemish that could be blamed on his offensive line, or lack there of, but unsuccessful nonetheless in Houston.

Another possibility for the Texans to draft was Young’s collegiate adversary, 2005 Heisman Trophy winner (Award was retroactively revoked and vacated for violation of NCAA rules), All-American running back from Southern California, Reggie Bush. Bush was heavily favored over Young, Williams was not even in the discussion yet.

In a surprising turn of events, despite all speculations and estimations, on the eve of the first day of the 2006 NFL Draft, the Houston Texans announced their signing of defensive end from North Carolina State, Mario Williams. A move that shocked many around the National Football League, a move that was considered a Michael Jordan-Sam Bowie type of mistake on the Texans’ behalf, but not all feedback was negative. Coming out of college, Williams was called an elite prospect, “an amazing natural athlete with rare ability” and “an outstanding pass rusher who can dominate a game” by draft analyst Scott Wright, Williams passed up his junior season at NC State to go professional. While the Texans’ General Manager at that time Charley Casserly states that he believed both Bush and Young would become great pros, the Texans need an anchor defensively, and what an anchor Mario turned out to be.

Despite all the pressure of being a first round defensive draft pick, Williams excelled in every game of every season, earning Houston’s love and admiration, dubbing him “Super Mario”. When the Texans signed Williams, they signed him for a six-year, $54 million contract. Unfortunately, those six years have come and gone, much too quick for fans of Williams in Houston; with the start of free agency looming, many teams are eager to snag Williams and whisk him away. The Texans had the choice to either tag Williams or, fan favorite running back, Arian Foster, who was the work horse for the Texans’ offense last season. Williams had a lackluster end to his final season in Houston, going down in Week 5 Williams suffered a torn pectoral muscle while sacking Raiders QB Jason Campbell for his team-leading fifth sack. He was placed on injured reserve for the second consecutive year on October 12, ending his season.

Was his health a reason why the Texans chose Foster over him? Or was it the fact that Houston wants to go young with young stud Brooks Reed who came into replace Williams, and quite frankly, blew many fans away with his stellar play. In only ten weeks of NFL playing time, Reed racked up 44 tackles and six sacks in his abbreviated rookie season.

The Houston Texans said they would love the have Williams back in Houston for the following season, and hopefully for the rest of his career, but should he be enticed by the money from another team, there is no hard feelings.

Should Williams depart from Houston, Texans fans should be thankful for what he has done in Houston, making the Texans’ defense a known force to be reckoned with. Free agency in the NFL starts on March 13th and will be a guessing game of who will go where, as there are many high profile free agents in the pool. This off-season looks to be an eventful one, of course, with the Indianapolis Colts releasing Peyton Manning, tensions will be on the rise as the draft nears, with only 18 days from the start of free agency to the draft, the free agent feeding frenzy will be something to watch.

- Richard Perez

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