By Tim Graham
Three months ago, Buffalo Bills fans couldn't fathom one of their players making a list of the planet's highest-paid athletes.
Excuses were rote: It's a small-market team; great players don't want to come here; Ralph Wilson is cheap; the Bills would rather turn a profit than win.
Much has changed around One Bills Drive over the past three months. Forbes reminded us this week with its annual list of the world's 100 highest-paid athletes.
Prized pass-rusher Mario Williams ranked a remarkable 16th on a rundown that also included boxers (commonly the highest-paid international athletes every year), golfers and soccer stars.
Buffalo News business reporter Jonathan Epstein wrote for this morning's edition that Williams has purchased a $2 million mansion on 10.2 acres in Aurora.
Williams, a former No. 1 draft choice, was rich before he signed with the Bills. But the club certainly made him richer.
Although he hasn't played a down for the Bills yet, he received a $19 million signing bonus, bringing his income over the past 12 months to an estimated $33.2 million, tying him with tennis star Rafael Nadal on the Forbes list.
Forbes estimated Williams made $32.9 million in salary and an extra $250,000 in endorsements.
Williams ranked higher than any baseball player (Alex Rodriguez was $200,000 behind) and any auto racer (Formula 1 driver Fernando Alonso was $1.2 million behind).
Only seven athletes from U.S. team sports ranked higher than Williams. Five were NFL players and two were from the NBA (LeBron James and Kobe Bryant).
The NFL players ahead of him: Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, 10th overall at $42.4 million; Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, 12th at $37.3 million; Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald, 13th at $36.8 million; Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, 14th at $36 million and Carolina Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson, 15th at $34.4 million.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, a superduperstar you probably would've guessed to be near the top of the list, came in 28th at $27.1 million. Although his household income would obliterate almost the entire field's.
Boxing champion Floyd Mayweather led everyone at $85 million, with fellow pugilist Manny Pacquiao coming in a distant second at $62 million.
Tiger Woods was third at $59.4 million. LeBron James came in fourth at $53 million.
No NHL player made the list. But a few cricket players did.
And to think, three months ago Bills fans had no clue their team would be throwing around cricket money.