It was another business as usual Monday for the Pittsburgh Steelers yesterday during free agency, hosting a couple of players with more scheduled soon after and making offers. It was the same thing that they did last week, and we already got off to a better start when neither of the hosted players signed with another team while on their visit in Pittsburgh.
First on deck was running back Knile Davis, who was seemingly fairly quick to sign on the dotted line. Given that he agreed to a one-year contract, it is probably safe to assume that it was of the veteran-minimum variety that qualifies for a reduced cap hit.
In my mind, this likely signals the end of DeAngelo Williams’ tenure in Pittsburgh, a question even he was contemplating on social media after Davis signed. When asked by a fan if the deal means that he isn’t coming back, the veteran replied that he was “not sure”.
But he was complimentary of Davis, describing him as “a dynamic player” and saying “I remember him showing up on our scouting report”. Now, Davis is not exactly the sort of player that Williams was at his peak, but then again, neither is Williams.
As big of a fan I am of Williams as a person and a player, it does seem the sensible thing from a football perspective to move in a different direction. Despite the fact that he has given the Steelers some quality starts—particularly in 2015, when I believed he was deserving of going to the Pro Bowl—it’s anyone’s guess how much he might have left.
He has dealt with injuries of varying causes and significance for the past three seasons now, and even before Le’Veon Bell returned in 2016, he already seemed to be breaking down to some degree. He ended up finishing the season averaging just 3.5 yards per carry.
The stated reason that the Steelers signed Williams in 2015 is because they knew that they would need a running back who could start the first games of that season and then transition into a backup role. From that perspective they more than got their money’s worth out of the signing.
But the Steelers aren’t in that sort of situation anymore, and it’s very easy to believe that they have every intention of drafting another running back this year, likely one that they intend to make the primary ball-carrier behind Bell.
Davis is a far more suiting third option than Willliams, who does not participate on special teams, while Davis can actually be used as an accomplished kick returner. He has recorded three kick returns for touchdowns since the Steelers as a team have had one.
As for Williams, who is soon to turn 34, it’s unclear what sort of market will eventually shake out for him, as the veteran running back market seems to be particularly slow this year—perhaps influenced by the knowledge of a deep draft class.