Coming off of a 2020 season that saw the Pittsburgh Steelers decimated by injuries at the inside linebacker position to Devin Bush and Robert Spillane — along with the eventual release of long-time starter Vince Williams — many assumed the position would be addressed via the NFL Draft and free agency.
Though the Steelers did address the position in the draft, selecting Texas A&M’s Buddy Johnson in the fourth round, most didn’t expect the position to be addressed in free agency the way Kevin Colbert and the Steelers’ front office eventually did, re-signing Williams to a one-year, veteran minimum contract of $1.075 million on April 14.
The move to bring back Williams on the veteran minimum occurred just under one month after cutting him as a salary cap casualty on March 16.
When Williams was initially cut to free up cap space for a salary cap-strapped roster, the expectation was the Steelers would go into training camp at the very least looking for late roster cutdown options on the cheap to ensure depth and experience wasn’t an issue at the position.
That all changed though when Williams agreed to return at a significant salary reduction, giving the Steelers key experience, system familiarity and leadership at a position where Devin Bush and Robert Spillane continue to work back from knee injuries, which caused them to miss significant time last season.
The decision to bring back Williams earned praise from Bleacher Report analyst Moe Moton, who tabbed the release and eventual re-signing of Williams as the Steelers’ smartest move of the off-season.
On paper, getting a veteran like Williams to return on a new, cheap contract is a huge win for the Steelers, especially in the cap situation they found themselves in due to the COVID-19 pandemic stagnating the projected rise in the league’s salary cap.
However, it is worth noting that the original release of Williams still carries a $3.03 million dead cap hit charge.
Aside from the obvious salary cap savings and the quick fix of the depth chart with the return of Williams, adding the veteran starter back into the fold allows the Steelers to do a number of things defensively, including turning Williams loose against the passer once again — an area in which he’s excelled throughout his career, racking up 18 sacks in the last four years, as Moton points out.
While it’s great to have a guy like Williams back on the roster and leading the inside linebacker room for another year, it’s important to point out that his new contract does not carry any guarantees, which makes him an easy cut at the end of training camp, should the Steelers choose to go that route.
Though it’s unlikely, that possibility still remains, especially if Bush and Spillane are fully healthy, Johnson gets up to speed quickly, and Marcus Allen takes the next step in his transition from safety to linebacker.