Everyone wanted to talk about his past.
Mario Williams’ thoughts were on his future — both near and distant.
Williams, the former Bills defensive end who left Buffalo with acrimony, returns to Western New York on Saturday for the first time as a Dolphin.
He hopes it’s not the last.
Williams is in the penultimate game of his most frustrating — and least productive — season as a pro.
Expectations were high when the Dolphins signed the former No. 1 overall pick to a two-year, $17 million contract in March.
That deal made him the eighth-highest paid defensive end in football.
He hasn’t played like it. One hundred seventy-six players have more sacks in 2016 than Williams’ 1 1/2.
On Tuesday, he had an explanation for why he has underperformed: He hasn’t been right physically all year.
Williams sustained a lower leg/ankle injury at the start of the season and then made it worse when he rolled it in San Diego.
Williams told the Miami Herald on Tuesday that he plans to have surgery in the offseason if the injury doesn’t improve, but he never thought about going on season-ending injured reserve.
“No matter what, right now, I don’t want to bail out on that,” Williams said. “I’m not going to do that.”
He wants to finish what he started with a Dolphins team that could clinch a playoff berth this weekend if they beat his former team.
And he wants to finish out his contract with the Dolphins, which seems unlikely, given the $8.5 million he’s due in base salary next year.
“I hope I’m still here, but you never know,” Williams said.
But if anyone thinks he’s eyeing retirement after a mostly great 10-year career, think again.
“No, No,” Williams said. “I don’t want it to end like this.”
He will need to prove to the Dolphins and any other interested team that there’s still life in his soon-to-be 32-year-old legs. His game tape would raise doubts.
Williams has just 24 tackles and 6 1/2 sacks since the start of the 2015 season, so if he does return to Miami, it’ll be a drastically reduced salary. Williams, who five years ago signed a $100 million contract, might not earn more than the veteran minimum in 2017 (roughly $1 million).
But Williams might be OK with that. He hasn’t made waves this year, despite being demoted from starter to bit player. Williams has been on the field for just 82 of the Dolphins’ 358 defensive snaps in the five games since the Chargers game.
Andre Branch long ago surpassed Williams on the depth chart, and it now appears as though Jason Jones has, too.
It’s hard to blame his coaches; Williams has just three tackles in the past two months.
“”I know that at the end of the day, I can trust [Terrell Williams], my [defensive] line coach, [defensive coordinator] Vance Joseph and [coach Adam] Gase,” Williams said. “When you have a communication or a talk with somebody, and you feel like, ‘I don’t understand what they’re saying,’ or they don’t understand what I’m saying, it’s totally different. Across the board, everybody’s just straight up with the situation.”
Now, he’s playing a part, no matter how small, in a playoff run. And he has no inclination to think about Buffalo and Houston, where he began his career. He declined to take shots at either franchise Tuesday.
“You’re asking me this question like during football season,” Williams told Buffalo reporters Tuesday. “It’s not, you know, a time to sit there and think about something else. That’s like, I mean, ‘How many ex-girlfriends have you had?’ You’re going to tell your girlfriend that? ‘Yeah, I miss this girl, I miss that girl.’ I mean, come on, man.”
▪ Cornerback Byron Maxwell said his injured ankle is improving but still doesn’t know if he’ll play Saturday. Linebacker Jelani Jenkins likely will not play.