The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Avery Williamson will be a starter for the defense by December.
Explanation: In a somewhat surprising move, the Steelers were reported to have agreed to a trade late last night for a player who at least in his most recent stop has been an every-down linebacker, a couple weeks after losing Devin Bush for the season, but Robert Spillane has been playing in his place.
While Robert Spillane may have had a pick six, it may have been his other plays in coverage—receptions allowed, that is, including a touchdown—that are more representative of his game. At least that illustrates the difference between him playing zone and man.
Spillane has done a nice job, but Williamson brings veteran experience that the Steelers did not otherwise have on the roster. He is not great—there’s a reason he was available for a fifth-round pick while getting a seventh back—but he’s someone you can leave on the field.
He already has 50 tackles, an interception, and three passes defensed on the season, and he has 14.5 sacks in his career, averaging about three per season in his first five years, so he is a guy who has a complete skill set to pair with his four career interceptions and 17 passes defensed.
There are two parts of this equation. One is the fact that the Avery Williamson of 2020 is not the Avery Williamson of 2018. He missed all of last season with a torn ACL, and he doesn’t look like the same athlete this year, even if he is playing 90-plus percent of the snaps for the Jets when healthy.
The other factor, of course, is what the Steelers already have, and Spillane is a guy who is on the rise, who knows the system, who has the respect of his teammates, and who has been making plays within that system.
This is, if anything, more of a depth move. It’s not clear what’s up with Ulysees Gilbert III after missing yesterday’s game, for one thing. With Mike Hilton also out, we had Justin Layne and Marcus Allen playing, and we even reached the point where Antoine Brooks, who is on the practice squad, dressed. They need depth, not a starter.