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Free-agent scouting report: Texans OLB Mario Williams

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Recent posts by Arthur Arkush

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Posted Feb. 21, 2012 @ 3:25 p.m. ET
By Arthur Arkush

Updated Feb. 22, 2012 @ 6:48 p.m. ET

This is the sixth in a series of scouting reports on key players who are expected to become free agents March 13, unless they are re-signed or franchised before then.

News: The Texans' top offseason priority is re-signing OLB Mario Williams, soon to be the most sought-after defensive player in this year's free-agent class if he hits the open market. It is highly unlikely the Texans would place the franchise tag on Williams, as it would cost the club 120 percent of his 2011 salary, or approximately $22 million. Houston has very little cap flexibility, and with restricted free-agent RB Arian Foster expected to receive a new deal, bringing back both players could be too difficult. The Texans have other players they hope to re-sign, including C Chris Myers, OG Mike Brisiel, TE Joel Dreessen and PK Neil Rackers.

The Texans found out in 2011 that life without "Super Mario" wasn't unmanageable, as they didn't skip a beat after Williams suffered a season-ending pectoral injury in Week Five. The terrific contributions from up-and-comers Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed (17½ sacks combined), paired with defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' scheme generating ample amounts of pressure, could allow Williams to strike it rich with a different club next season.

Notes: After starting the first 64 games of his career, Williams, the top overall pick in 2006, has missed 14 games combined the past two seasons. One of the premier pass rushers in football, Williams appeared to be a quick study playing rush outside linebacker for the first time last season. He registered five sacks in his first five games before being injured. Williams has been voted to two Pro Bowls. His 53 career sacks rank first in franchise history. Williams has said that he wants to return to the Texans, though he is expected to test the free-agent market. He could be poised to become the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history, which won't happen in Houston.

Positives: Williams is one of the more physically gifted defensive players in football. At 6-6, 283 pounds, he gets off the ball with great explosion, boasting an incredibly quick first step. His great length and wingspan pose major problems for QBs. Easily knocks defenders off balance and seldom can be contained by a single blocker. He showed versatility and coachability last season, quickly adjusting to a new position. Williams isn't limited to rushing the passer; he is a talented run defender, capable of holding the point and shedding blockers. At age 27, Williams is just reaching the pinnacle of his career. He has shown a willingness to play through injuries.

Negatives: A superior athlete, Williams sometimes can depend too much on his raw talent. He occasionally takes plays off and lacks discipline. Not instinctive. After showing great durability in his first four seasons, Williams' injuries have piled up the past two seasons.

Risk factor: Williams is a rare talent who is just reaching the prime of his career. He has the ability to take over games and, with a premium on pass rushers, is a proven commodity who has stayed fairly healthy up until recently. He is an unselfish guy who is good in the locker room. The injury he suffered last season isn't expected to linger; he should be ready to go. The only reservation teams might have with Williams is that he sometimes lacks urgency — not something coaches want to hear about a guy who is about to sign a potentially record-breaking deal.

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