Spring cleaning is underway at One Bills Drive.
Well, make that spring bulldozing.
The Buffalo Bills released defensive end Mario Williams, running back Boobie Dixon and guard Kraig Urbik on Tuesday, while tight end MarQueis Gray, a restricted free agent, is also on his way out. General Manager Doug Whaley didn't seem overly concerned about the team's salary-cap problems at the NFL scouting combine, probably because he knew a slew of contracts would be coming off the books soon. The three releases clear nearly $16 million under the 2016 salary cap, money that helped the team franchise tag left tackle Cordy Glenn at $13.7 million.
“We want to thank Boobie, Kraig and Mario for everything they did during their years with our franchise," Whaley said in a statement. "Each of them contributed to our team in a unique way. Days like this are never easy and this is a part of the business that is difficult on everyone. We will now focus our attention on moving forward as we continue to prepare for free agency, the upcoming draft and the 2016 season.”
While Williams enjoyed three productive seasons with the Bills after inking a historic six-year contract worth up to $100 million — the richest-ever for a defensive player at the time — he wasn't a fit in Rex Ryan's defense, made that known publicly and his effort was later called into question by teammates. Williams finished with only 19 tackles and five sacks after totaling 38 sacks the previous three seasons.
Early as October, Williams called Ryan's scheme into question, saying he hadn't dropped into coverage this much in his career.
One anonymous teammate said Williams checked out a long time ago, back to not wanting to take part in the conditioning test before training camp.
“It’s been clear to me that Mario doesn’t care about anybody but himself,” the teammate said. “He followed that up by not giving any effort during the season and complaining about the scheme instead of manning up and saying he played like crap and doesn’t care.”
Asked if Williams checked out? “Totally checked out. ... Zero effort. The tape speaks for itself. … He takes two steps and stops.”
Said Williams, "If you were going to ask me, do I want to drop or do I want to rush? I want to rush. And build something during the game, build something against the player, set things up and do what I’m accustomed to doing.”
Very rarely had top-tier free agents considered Buffalo, let alone signed with Buffalo when Williams did in 2012. He had his moments, too. Williams' takedown of Aaron Rodgers for sack/safety in 2014 sealed a 21-13 upset win over the Green Bay Packers. The Bills were No. 2 and No. 1 in sacks before Ryan arrived and Williams might've been the No. 1 reason why.
Now, the 31-year-old is officially out as a Bill. He'll have a chance to prove he still has it somewhere else.
Wherever Williams heads next, he'll need to explain what happened in 2015 when he clearly was not the same difference-maker. While it's true he didn't have as many opportunities to rush under Ryan as he did with coordinator Jim Schwartz, he still was one-on-one against tackles often and didn't get to the quarterback nearly as much which compelled teammates to speak up.
Now, the Bills will need to find an end to replace Williams in Ryan's 3-4 scheme. Vets Alex Carrington and Jarius Wynn could factor in and this NFL draft appears to be loaded on the defensive line.
Big picture, Buffalo will be counting on rookies stepping in immediately this season. Whaley's staff wasn't finished with Williams.
Urbik started 57 games over his six-year Bills career (including four last season). Gray was in line to be the team's No. 2 tight end in training camp before breaking his forearm and landing on injured reserve. And Dixon, while beloved in Western New York by the fans for his infectious personality, rushed for only 44 yards on 21 carries last season.
The Urbik release saves Buffalo $1.75 million and the Dixon release saves $1.15 million. Kicker Dan Carpenter, who missed six extra points, could also be a potential cap casualty. And the team itself noted defensive backs Leodis McKelvin and Corey Graham as two players who may need to restructure deals.
McKelvin indicated at the end of the season that he was open to taking a pay cut and/or moving to safety.
The question for the Bills then becomes, which restricted free agents are worth the $1.6 million low tender? Defensive tackle Corbin Bryant, tackle Jordan Mills, wide receiver Chris Hogan and safety Bacarri Rambo, defensive tackle Stefan Charles and linebacker Ty Powell will all be RFA's. By 4 p.m. on March 9, teams must make qualifying offers their restricted free agents and then they have until April 22 to sign.