Mario Williams is better than Olivier Vernon. Even at 31. Even after collecting fewer sacks at Buffalo in 2015 than Vernon did in Miami.
These are the things I am telling myself about the Miami Dolphins latest free-agency splash, with the team adding a former No. 1 overall draft pick in Williams and deciding to let Vernon find his own monster deal elsewhere.
Of course there are vital money and salary cap considerations to this and every decision and Mario actually does come a lot cheaper.
Setting all of that aside, however, and focusing simply on what will win the Dolphins the most games in the shortest period, it keeps coming down to Mario is better that Vernon. Mario is better than Vernon. Mario is better than Vernon.
Not sure why I’m having to work so hard to convince myself of that, why it feels so necessary to repeat that mantra.
Here are some good reasons to like the decision.
Vernon has averaged 7.25 sacks per season in his NFL career, which is good. Mario has averaged 9.6, which is better.
Vernon has not been to a Pro Bowl. Mario has been to four.
Vernon is 6-feet-2 and 261 pounds with a lot quickness. Mario is 6-6 and 290 with crushing force to go with his speed.
Vernon is 25 and just beginning to hit his stride. Mario, however, is the youngest of the NFL’s top-10 active career sack leaders and has already shown what he can do.
Last, Mario switched teams as a free agent one other time in his career and actually stepped his game to a higher gear. His last four years in Houston featured diminishing sack returns, from 14 to 12 to 9 to 8.5 to 5. Then, newly signed in Buffalo, he immediately stepped it up in successive season to 10.5, then 13 and then 14.5.
When the guy is motivated, and coming to the Dolphins to play on the same line with Ndamukong Suh should do that, he’s a lot closer to J.J. Watt than Mario Whatever.
Now we get to the nagging doubts, and anyone who has followed the Dolphins over a long period will understand why they keep bubbling up.
Simply signing a big star on the defensive line doesn’t mean that other teams are going to start punting on third down to avoid bodily harm. Suh’s numbers dropped in both sacks and tackles in his Dolphins debut season, and he is the highest-paid defensive player in league history.
Also, the Dolphins have lots of concerns at other defensive positions, even with the addition to two new veteran starters by trade from Philadelphia. Brent Grimes, a supposed top-50 Dolphin all-time, is gone, first-time head coach Adam Gase has brought in new staffers and there’s a lot of work to be done. Mario didn’t seem too crazy about making hard changes with Bills coach Rex Ryan last year.
In relation to that, Buffalo rolled over the Dolphins twice last season. Mario started each of those games and here are his cumulative statistical contributions. Zero sacks and one tackle.
Finally, Mario is at the age where injuries start to come. There are exceptions, like Bruce Smith and Reggie White, who had some of their best seasons in their mid-30’s, but they were Hall of Famers. Mario, so far, is just a former No. 1 overall draft pick.
Like two other defensive linemen, Dan Wilkinson and Steve Emtman, who joined the Dolphins from other teams a few decades ago and didn’t make much of a difference.
Still, Mario is better than Vernon, or so I keep saying.
To some extent, every personnel move and every free-agent signing is a calculated risk. At this moment, with the free-agency stampede kicking up all kinds of confusing dust, this one really does seem worth taking.