Everybody likes an underdog. For some, that only lasts until he gets a starting job or gets paid. But for most—at least I hope—the fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers are celebrating along with former sixth-round pick Vince Williams after the veteran signed his second extension with the team, and the first as a starter.
Williams, who is basically the Ramon Foster of the linebacker group, said reporting to training camp that he wanted to die a Pittsburgh Steeler. He took a major step in that direction yesterday with his three-year contract extension that runs through the 2021 season and assures that he will play at least nine seasons with the team that took a chance on him back in 2013 as an unheralded Florida State product.
For those who remember, it didn’t take him long to impress in what was a somewhat crowded group at inside linebacker that year behind Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote. Veteran Stevenson Sylvester was still present, while Marshall McFadden, Kion Wilson, and Terence Garvin all emerged as well. While I was slow to allow for a roster spot for him, he clearly earned it, and was the clear choice to see the defensive snaps after Foote was injured.
The Steelers did limit him during his playing time, of course, as a rookie and a linebacker on the bigger side who would be limited in coverage. There were a number of games after he entered the starting lineup in which he actually saw fewer than half of the snaps, with safety Will Allen replacing him.
Williams entered the starting lineup outright and on a full-time basis for the first time last season, replacing Timmons, and he proved himself to be up to the task, recording 89 tackles, eight sacks, and an interception (of Tom Brady) in 735 snaps, averaging about 46 snaps played per game.
While he was given the chance to work in the starting lineup in something of a cameo role as a rookie, he was disheartened when the Steelers drafted an inside linebacker in the first round the following spring to play ahead of him. Ryan Shazier took the first snap of his first practice as a professional working with Timmons in the starting lineup. That only fueled Williams further, competing with Shazier every step of the way, in doing so forging a lifelong friendship.
But he was still out looking for his own starting role. The opportunity was finally on the horizon with Timmons in the final year of his contract in 2016. The Steelers signed Williams, also in his final year, to a minor two-year extension, anticipating the possibility that he would start in 2017.
That’s how it ended up playing out, even though they tried to sign a starter, and then draft a starter, but they trusted that Williams would be able to handle the job if necessary. Now in the final year of his contract again, the Steelers liked what they saw out of him in the starting role, at long last cementing his place in the defense, with the salary to show for it.