When linebacker-end Mario Williams signed a six-year contract Thursday with the Buffalo Bills worth $100 million, $50 million guaranteed, he became the highest-paid defensive player in league history. Williams‘ mega-deal followed by one day the $132 million contract the Detroit Lions gave their star receiver, Calvin Johnson.
Johnson’s haul is the most for any NFL player at any position.
“It’s one of those things you don’t get many chances like this, and opportunities to come in and be the guy who can help the team get across the hump,” said Williams, who was in Buffalo since the free agency period opened Tuesday, having been flown in from his home in North Carolina. “And that’s definitely what I’m here for. My whole intention is to come here, work with guys like Kyle (Williams) and (Marcell) Dareus and make this thing happen.”
The first overall draft pick by Houston in 2006, Williams became a pass rushing force and all-around standout at end before moving to linebacker in the Texans’ new 3-4 alignment last year. But he played only five games in 2011 before a torn chest muscle sidelined him.
Earlier Thursday, guard Ben Grubbs agreed on a five-year, $36 million contract with New Orleans, where he will replace All-Pro Carl Nicks, who left the previous day for NFC South rival Tampa Bay. Grubbs gets $16 million guaranteed, including a $10 million signing bonus.
“Ben comes to us from an offense in Baltimore that experienced a lot of success, both running the football and in pass protection,” Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said. “He was a big part of that and we believe that he can come right in and fit into our program without missing a beat.”
Nicks is considered one of the league’s best pass blockers and was a key part of the Saints’ record-setting offense. Grubbs made the Pro Bowl last season with the Ravens.
Another offensive lineman switching teams was Steve Hutchinson, a five-time All Pro with seven Pro Bowls who left Minnesota for Tennessee. Hutchinson changed teams as a free agent once before, in 2006 when he left Seattle for the Vikings. The Seahawks gave him a transition designation, but then couldn’t match the deal he got with Minnesota, which included stipulations the Seahawks couldn’t handle under the salary cap.
“I still see him playing at a high level, even in his 11th NFL season,” said Titans coach Mike Munchak, himself a Hall of Fame guard. “He brings experience and success to our line and into the locker room.”
Safety Brodney Pool took a one-year deal with Dallas, which has been busy in free agency despite losing $10 million in salary cap space over the next two seasons for overspending in the uncapped 2010 season. Pool joins cornerback Brandon Carr, quarterback Kyle Orton, fullback Lawrence Vickers and offensive lineman Mackenzy Bernadeau with the Cowboys.
“Obviously we’ve taken a big step,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “Getting the cap hit, you have to deal with it and there’s ramifications of that, but it’s not going to stop us from being able to do the things we have to do to be a championship-caliber football team in 2012.”
Defensive end Frostee Rucker left Cincinnati for Cleveland and a five-year, $21 million contract. Rucker had his best season in 2011 with a career-high four sacks in 11 starts.
The Browns also re-signed offensive lineman Oniel Cousins and tight end Alex Smith, both backups.
San Francisco released cornerback Shawntae Spencer, who became expendable after Carlos Rogers re-signed with the 49ers and Perrish Cox was added as a free agent.
New England have re-signed special teams captain Matthew Slater and signed defensive tackle Marcus Harrison. Slater made his first Pro Bowl last season, and has played wide receiver and safety in his four seasons with the Patriots.
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