Bills ready to make a big splash?

Free agent defensive end Mario Williams. (REUTERS)

Free agent defensive end Mario Williams. (REUTERS)

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:41 AM ET

TORONTO - The Buffalo Bills have missed the playoffs 12 consecutive years but head coach Chan Gailey can still talk as good a game as anyone else.

With the free agent free-for-all beginning, Gailey predicted that his club will not only escape the division basement, but win the title. Bold words.

If he’s serious, the Bills might want to start by dusting off the wallet and signing Mario Williams.

The defensive end began a tour Tuesday that was to include three other cities. Buffalo was his first stop. Bills’ management might also want to make it his last stop — otherwise, people might just believe Gailey’s pronouncements are nothing except more rhetoric.

“The team believes we can win the division,” Gailey said on the club’s website. “I think we have a legitimate chance. We beat New England last year, went to New York and played good. Played bad against Miami (but) we match up well in the division.”

Nice of Gailey to show such confidence. But if his team is to back up such talk, management has to make some bold moves in free agency. Williams would be a bold move.

The Bills have $23 million in cap space, room to make an aggressive offer, and it’s believed the team is willing to make him the highest paid defensive player in the league, eclipsing the $91.5 million ($42 million guaranteed) that Julius Peppers received in 2010 from the Bears.

The Bills have excellent interior linemen in Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus, but need a pass rusher desperately and Williams should give them 12 to 15 sacks a season.

Closing the deal with Williams would signal to fans, Bills’ players, and other free agents, that management is serious about becoming a contender.

After years of playing cautious, GM Buddy Nix hinted Tuesday, that the Bills might be willing to do more than play lip service to high-level free agents. He and defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt flew to North Carolina to pick Williams up. Then last night they had dinner, with CEO Russ Brandon, head coach Gailey and defensive tackle Kyle Williams all trying to convince the premier defensive player on the free agent market to cancel the rest of his tour and sign immediately. “We’d like to be out of the business by Friday. The big splash for us could be over in a week,” Nix said.

The Bills could still secure a premier defender in the draft of course. But Williams is a proven commodity. He is only 27. He has played in multiple defensive schemes. There is a big gap between him and anyone else. He has to be Plan A. For Nix it includes out-bidding clubs like New England and Atlanta, which wouldn’t be easy. They have a reputation as winners which right away makes them more attractive to a player of Williams’ calibre. But this is a team that has finished last in the AFC East four consecutive years, tying them with the Redskins for the NFL’s longest streak of consecutive last-place finishes. If they ever want to play with the big boys, they have to start matching teams like the Falcons and Patriots down for down, and dollar for dollar.

And, just talking about it isn’t going to get it done.

DO THE CRIME, PAY THE TIME

Paul Hornung was once the NFL’s baddest of the bad.

In 1961, he and the Lions’ Alex Karras, were suspended for an entire season for betting on NFL games — the most stringent penalties ever levied by the league at the time.

But now, a half century later, Hornung has no sympathy for his fellow rule-benders. “Well, kick them out. What the hell? Get rid of them,” said Hornung, of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and a slew of defensive players who participated in a bounty program that paid players for injuring and knocking opponents out of games.

Hornung, now 76, has seen what the game can do to former players, even as the result of fair play. He had to pay for his gaffe, and so too, he said, should the Williams’ gang.

“They made a mistake. You make a mistake, you pay for it. I had to lay out a year. I know what it is. I made a mistake and I was sorry for it. They kicked me out and thank goodness they let me back in after a while. You can’t do those kinds of things. That’s ridiculous. My heavens. The sport is tough enough to play. We have enough guys after a certain age, it’s dangerous having played professional football.”

LEARNED THEIR LESSON

The Philadelphia Eagles are going from dream guys to team guys.

There will be no wild spending spree on big-name free agents.

Been there; done that. And, other than Vince Young looking at the roster and pronouncing it the Dream Team, it was a nightmare.

Young is soon to be gone, as the Eagles try to retool with solid core players.

This week they worked out veteran linebacker Ben Leber, a 13-year veteran and longtime Viking, who they’re looking at as a backup.

The Eagles, with a healthy Michael Vick, believe they have a core group that is just some fine-tuning from being able to contend with the likes of the Giants. As such, while other clubs were trying to out-bid each other for household names Tuesday, the Eagles quietly signed offensive tackle Todd Herremans to a three-year, $21 million extension.

There will be no repeat of 2011’s wild spree in free agency and, in Philly, the silence may yet prove golden.

QUARTERBACKS ON THE MOVE

Peyton Manning has been the focus of much of the talk but several other free agent quarterbacks are also negotiating to change zip codes.

Chad Henne seems to be getting more interest than expected while Kyle Orton might be getting less than he expected.

Orton appears to have given in to the inevitable — that his chances of landing a starter’s job are limited. So, unless another club shows interest in giving him a full-time gig, he will visit the Cowboys, who are looking for a wingman for Tony Romo.

Dallas tried to claim Orton last year when the Broncos put him on waivers.

Henne, the man displaced in Miami, reportedly has a lock on the backup job to Mark Sanchez in New York if he wants it. But that’s his fallback position now as the Jaguars have invited him for a visit, as well as Seattle.

Meanwhile, Jason Campbell signed a one-year deal with Chicago, which was looking for a veteran backup to Jay Cutler after Caleb Hanie and Todd Collins proved unsuccessful.


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