Falcons need to pursue Mario Williams

If there’s going to be one really big free-agent splash in the NFC South, I expect it to come from the Atlanta Falcons.

I don’t expect much from the Carolina Panthers or New Orleans Saints simply because they don’t have the salary-cap room. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers do have cap room and I’m expecting them to be pretty active. But the Falcons could overshadow them with one move.

Atlanta could be in the mix for Houston defensive end Mario Williams, who is considered one of the top members of this class of free agents. The Falcons need a pass rusher and they appear to be on the verge of letting John Abraham, who led the team in sacks last year, walk away as a free agent.

They have to do something dramatic and they have a history of that (signing Dunta Robinson and trading for Tony Gonzalez). We won’t know for sure if the Falcons are in the mix for Williams until free agency starts Tuesday afternoon, but they should be.

Williams is the best bet to add the “explosiveness’’ up front the Falcons talk so much about. He’s the best pass-rusher on the market.

Funny, but the Falcons were looking for a pass-rusher last year and they went after Charles Johnson. He wound up re-signing with Carolina and the Falcons settled for Ray Edwards, who came at about half the price. Although Edwards played the run well, he wasn’t much of a factor in the pass rush.

This time around, the Falcons shouldn’t settle. They’re no longer looking for someone to complement Abraham. They’re looking for someone to replace him and they can’t let economics hold them back.

The Falcons have some cap room to work with, but Williams is likely to command a deal that averages more than $14 million a year. That might require more cap room than the Falcons currently have.

But there are always ways around the cap. The Falcons can get creative and restructure some contracts.

They should do whatever it takes to get Williams. This is an organization that’s well aware that owner Arthur Blank no longer is content with playoff appearances. He wants playoff victories.

Adding Williams is the one move the Falcons can make in free agency that instantly will make them a better team.