Bills linebacker Nick Barnett was doing some elite training in March at the Athletes Performance Institute in Phoenix. The place has become famous among football fans because it’s one of the centers where top draft prospects go to get ready for the NFL Scouting Combine workouts. But veteran pro athletes in many sports also go there during their offseasons to get high-level speed and strength conditioning.
Barnett was there with Chicago Bears star pass rusher Julius Peppers when the NFL’s free-agency signing period opened.
“I was in Arizona,” Barnett said after Tuesday’s spring practice in Orchard Park. “It was me and Julius Peppers, and we were joking around. He said, ‘I think we’re gonna sign Mario Williams.’ I just said, ‘I don’t think so.’ Then I came in the next day and said, ‘Looks like we got him, bro.’ It was definitely exciting. If he comes in and does what he’s capable of doing and what he’s been doing, it makes us a better team just with that.”
As was widely reported at the time, the Bears were very interested in recruiting Williams. It’s worth reiterating that the Bills’ front office – Russ Brandon, Jim Overdorf and Buddy Nix – did a good job of lobbying Williams' agent that they were “all in” on the pursuit of the star defensive end and that he should make Buffalo his first visit. It obviously helped that Williams was intrigued by Buffalo and was not fixated on a “bright lights-big city” destination.