Eleven months ago, Pittsburgh Steelers’ linebacker Vince Williams announced he was walking away from the NFL. It had been a turbulent offseason, one that saw him cut in March and re-signed in April. On training camp eve, Williams announced he was stepping away from professional football, ending a solid career for any player, let alone a sixth round pick.
Appearing on The Arhur Moats Experience with Deke podcast Monday, Williams opened up why he decided to step away from the game. It came down to two aspects: health and money.
“Essentially I became a cap casualty,” Williams said. “I got cut, I explored other free agent options. I looked around and didn’t want to play anywhere besides the Pittsburgh Steelers. So I came back. But when I was there, it was just different. I was a little older, it was harder. You get up in age, your body starts hurting. I had torn my quad muscle in the second Browns’ game and played with a torn quad in the playoff game. So I was still trying to recover from that when I first got cut.”
The extent of Williams’ injury hadn’t previously been reported, though he did show up on that week’s injury report with the quad injury he referenced. He missed Wednesday’s practice but returned in full the rest of the week, logging 35 snaps in the Wild Card loss to the Browns, recording seven tackles. They would be his final NFL snaps.
When Williams returned to Pittsburgh in April, it came at a reduced price point, signed to a veteran benefit deal at just over $1 million. He pointed to that as one reason for deciding to walk away.
“Taking a huge paycut took all the wind out of my sails, bro. It really was like I was obsolete. When I came back to the building, I didn’t see where I fit, where I belong.”
Williams admits he knew the team was trying to develop Devin Bush and Robert Spillane, Williams saying he was “happy for” the two of them, and that he was nearing the end of his football career. Not wanting to be a “spiteful vet,” coming off an injury, and playing for far less money led him to walk away . A better alternative than putting his body through another full season.
Despite the early retirement, Williams had a heck of a NFL career. He went from unheralded sixth round pick viewed as too slow for the league to spending eight years in Pittsburgh, progressing from ace special teamer to thumping inside linebacker and making up a great duo alongside Ryan Shazier. His career was a success story and one of Kevin Colbert’s best Day Three gems, ranking as the 25th best pick Colbert ever made.
Williams was honest about his immediate post-retirement life, opening up about the tough transition from playing football his entire life to sitting at home on Sundays.
“I fell into a deep depression. Mostly because I honestly felt like I was still the most talented and productive middle linebacker on the team…I had a sense of uselessness. I’m like ‘man, I’m not useful no more.’ My entire life I’ve been a football player, I’ve had a role for me. Now there’s no role for me.”
He described feeling stuck “in limbo” on the team, too valuable for Danny Smith on special teams but not valuable enough to carve out an everydown defensive role. In recent months, Williams has seemed to fill that void, getting into coaching and picking up a job as Pine-Richland High School’s linebacker coach. He also told the show faith and prayer have helped him feel better about his role and purpose but admitted he still struggles with an “identity crisis.”
Moving on with life’s work isn’t easy and Williams is still just one year removed from a job he had and did well for so many years. Time will create more space between him and playing football. It’ll also create new experiences and help solidify his purpose not as Vince Williams the football player but Vince Williams the person.
Check out the whole interview below.