Perhaps aside from Peyton Manning, the Buffalo Bills have landed the biggest fish in the 2012 free-agency pool. The Bills have agreed to sign defensive end Mario Williams -- a high-impact player at a high-impact position -- to a contract reported to be worth $100 million over six years, with an eye-popping $50 million guaranteed. A couple of things to note:
Small-market survival: Yes, the fact that Williams a) made his first free-agent visit to Buffalo, and b) signed with the Bills is surprising. The Bills are not a team that fits the stereotype of an enticing free-agent destination. However, this is the NFL, not Major League Baseball or the NBA. Competitive balance and parity, fueled by a cap and equally shared billions of television revenue, allow for this to happen. Of course, the first prime free agent in NFL history, Reggie White, went to the Packers.
Green Bay and Buffalo, places not known to be geographically desirable, can financially attract free agents as easily as bigger markets can. And, with a new CBA in place for the next decade, this trend can continue.
Shown the money: As to the financial package, Williams will receive $25 million in the first year of the contract and $53 million total in first three years of the deal.
Pay no attention to the $100 million; that is for show. Indeed, the fact that the contract has a sixth year on it has little true value to the Bills or to Williams, as the CBA mandates that bonuses can only be prorated for five years.
However, pay close attention to the reported $50 million guarantee. That is the "real money" of this contract, and it is eye-popping. In fact, it may prove more valuable than the $60 million guarantee given to Calvin Johnson by the Lions, as Johnson had two years remaining on his contract for a potential $50 million.
According to an NFL source, half of the $50 million is fully guaranteed for skill and injury while the other $25 million is only guaranteed for injury initially, converting to full skill guarantees later in the contract. The reason for this, the source said, is that the NFL requires teams to fully fund -- meaning placing the money in escrow -- skill guarantees, having no such requirement for injury guarantees. For a small-market team such as Buffalo, Williams and his agents were not going to press on the up-front guarantee.
A $50 million guarantee for Williams would zoom past the highest guarantee for a defensive player, that of Bears defensive end Julius Peppers. Peppers received a $42 million guarantee from the Bears in 2010. Williams will now sign a deal that is 19 percent more than that of Peppers, the next-highest number. Pretty impressive.
There will be more analysis when all the numbers are in, but it appears the Bills have shown Williams the money and were successful in not letting him leave Buffalo without a contract. Parity lives.
Andrew Brandt, a former vice president with the Packers, is a contributor to ESPN.com.