Texans To Make Williams Top Pick

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 29, 2006

NEW YORK, April 28 -- In a stunning last-minute twist, the Houston Texans agreed to a contract yesterday with Mario Williams and announced they will use the top pick in today's NFL draft on the North Carolina State defensive end instead of on University of Southern California tailback Reggie Bush.

The Texans had been negotiating with both players and it was widely assumed they would select Bush, the most electrifying player in college football last season. But contract talks with Bush stalled in recent days, and the Texans spent yesterday negotiating with Williams and his agent, Ben Dogra.

"It's a decision that took us a lot of time to make, but at the end of the day we felt this was the best player for our football team," Texans General Manager Charley Casserly said at a news conference. "Both players, Reggie Bush and Mario Williams, I think are going to be great pros. But we made the decision to go with defense."

Williams signed a six-year contract worth $54 million. The deal includes $26.5 million in bonus money, an increase of about 10 percent over the $24 million in bonuses in the six-year, $49.5 million contract that last year's top selection, quarterback Alex Smith, signed with the San Francisco 49ers.

Bush had rejected a similar contract proposal from the Texans and was seeking an increase of closer to 20 percent over the bonus money in Smith's deal, said a source familiar with the negotiations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the financial terms of the agreement had not been announced when he spoke.

Casserly said the Texans believed they could have signed Bush if they had continued negotiations with him but they decided Thursday to go with Williams. The controversy surrounding Bush this week -- started by reports last weekend that his parents lived in a house owned by a man involved in a marketing company that sought to represent Bush -- was not a factor in the Texans' deliberations, Casserly said.

The Texans' move left Bush, who won last season's Heisman Trophy, available to the New Orleans Saints, who pick second. Saints officials, who earlier indicated they would take Bush if he was available, last night were talking to several teams interested in trading up to choose him.

Williams is regarded as the best pass rusher in the draft, and late this week he declared himself the top defensive end to enter the league since the Carolina Panthers chose Julius Peppers with the second overall selection four years ago. He said he thought of himself as a legitimate candidate for the top pick from the moment he decided to bypass his senior season at N.C. State.

Still, he predicted Thursday that Bush would be the Texans' choice, and he said he had some reservations that the club might be negotiating with him to gain leverage in its talks with Bush. Dogra, his agent, was wary of intensifying negotiations with the Texans yesterday for the same reason. But Texans owner Robert McNair had said Thursday that Williams was under serious consideration, and yesterday's developments showed that McNair wasn't bluffing.

"I never set my goals low," Williams said during a draft luncheon Thursday in New York. "I thought I had a great opportunity to be the number one pick . . . . It would be an honor. But it's not important to me. The thing that's important is not just what happens in 2006. It's 2007 and 2008, and who had the biggest impact on his team. I want to contribute to my team for a long time."

This is the second time in the last five drafts that the Texans signed a player before using the top pick on him. They also struck a pre-draft deal with quarterback David Carr in 2002.

When the Texans made significant progress in contract talks early in the week with Bush's agent, Joel Segal, it appeared the team would be able to draft Bush with a deal already in place with him, eliminating the possibility of having a difficult set of negotiations this summer that could have led to the running back missing part of training camp.

But the negotiations had bogged down by Thursday. The price for the No. 1 pick had gone up 20 percent annually in each of the previous two years, and Segal was seeking an increase of more than 10 percent for Bush. McNair said during Thursday's luncheon that if only one player was willing to sign before the draft it would be a factor in who the club picked. But McNair didn't say if that would be the determining factor, and he indicated he thought talks were progressing with both players.

The Saints now can make a trade or select Bush or one of the players they previously had under consideration, Virginia left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson or Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk. The Tennessee Titans, if they keep the third pick, could have their choice of the draft's big-three quarterbacks -- USC's Matt Leinart, Texas's Vince Young and Vanderbilt's Jay Cutler. There reportedly has been disagreement within the organization about whether to go with Leinart or Young.

Both quarterbacks seemed on edge late this week. Young still was recovering from the sting of having his hometown team, the Texans, announce Wednesday that they wouldn't use the top pick on him.

"Business is business," Young said. "I don't have my mind set on any one team."

University of Maryland tight end Vernon Davis might be headed to the New York Jets at No. 4, the Green Bay Packers at No. 5 or the 49ers at No. 6. If he goes to Green Bay, his rookie season could coincide with the final season of Packers quarterback Brett Favre.

"That would be cool," said Davis, who was 7 years old when Favre broke into the league in 1991. "I'm pretty sure I could play with Favre. I'm pretty sure I could play with any good quarterback."

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