Tonawanda News

March 13, 2012

Bills court 2 free agents: DE Williams, WR Meachem

By John Wawrow
Associated Press

ORCHARD PARK —  

The Buffalo Bills have made no secret of their need to improve their pass rush, and they're sparing no expense in courting prized free agent, defensive end Mario Williams, to provide that push.

And add receiver Robert Meachem into the mix of free agents the Bills are showing serious interest in.

The Bills opened the NFL's free-agency period on Tuesday attempting to make a big splash by meeting with both Williams, the former Houston Texans defensive end, and Meachem, the former New Orleans Saints receiver, at a downtown Buffalorestaurant.

The meetings were announced in text messages sent out by the team. And the team's website said the Bills went so far in luring both players by using private jets to pick them up and fly them both to Buffalo.

Williams was the first to arrive on a flight from his home in North Carolina with general manager Buddy Nix and defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt on board. They all were joined for dinner with CEO Russ Brandon, coach Chan Gailey and defensive tackle Kyle Williams.

Meachem then arrived about an hour later.

There were no updates provided by the team regarding how the meetings went, and it's unclear whether Williams and/or Meachem will leave town to meet with other teams.

Behind quarterback Peyton Manning, Williams is regarded as one of the top free agents on the market, which means the Bills would have to pay a hefty price if they intend to land the player selected first overall in the 2006 draft by Houston.

"We plan to be aggressive in free agency," Brandon told Buffalo's WGR-Radio, "and resources will not be an issue."

In six seasons, Williams became the Texans' top defensive player before being slowed by injuries in each of the past two years.

Listed at 6-foot-6 and 285 pounds, Williams is a two-time Pro Bowl starter, who has a franchise-best 53 career sacks, including a team single-season best 14 (2007). Williams was limited to playing just five games last season as a result of a torn chest muscle. He also missed three games in 2010 after having surgery to repair a sports hernia.

Despite Williams' absence last season, the Texans defense finished second in the NFL in fewest yards allowed, and set a team record with 44 sacks while helping Houston to its first playoff appearance. Before making a decision on whether to re-sign Williams this offseason, the Texans re-signed running back Arian Foster to a five-year, $43.5 million contract.

Both Nix and Gailey have emphasized this offseason that improving the team's pass rush is among the top offseason priorities. Buffalo (6-10) managed just 27 sacks last season, 10 of them coming in a 23-0 win over the Redskins on Oct. 30.

Earlier on Tuesday, Texans owner Bob McNair said he was still interested in re-signing Williams, but noted he would have to compete with other teams.

Adding depth at receiver is another goal for the Bills, who are in need of a proven complement to play opposite Stevie Johnson. He signed a five-year contract last week.

Meachem has the potential to fill that role. At 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, Meachem is coming off three consecutive 600-yard seasons with the pass-happy Saints. That includes 40 catches for 620 yards and six touchdowns last year.

His best season came in 2009, when he had 45 catches for 722 yards and nine scores.

The Bills offense made strides last year behind quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in finishing 13th in the NFL in yards passing. That was a major step for an offense that had finished 22nd or worse in each of the previous eight seasons.

AP Sports Writer Chris Duncan, in Houston, contributed to this report.