It was first reported on Wednesday that the Steelers were re-signing inside linebacker Vince Williams to a contract just one month after cutting him for salary cap purposes.
Following the surprise re-signing of both receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and defensive lineman Tyson Alualu, the fan in me says, “Yay!” There’s also that bit about the Steelers’ culture not being as bad as people think; like Smith-Schister and Alualu, Williams reportedly shunned other teams—and maybe better offers—in order to return to Pittsburgh.
But that’s all feel-good stuff that we don’t need to discuss in this article. What we can talk about is how Williams’ addition (or is it re-addition?) to the inside linebacker corps perhaps fortifies it to the point that Pittsburgh won’t have to address the unit with one of its premium selections in the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft. That’s a matter of opinion, of course. We don’t know what the Steelers’ brass is thinking when it comes to any of these perceived positions of need. For all we know, Micah Parsons could be this year’s Devin Bush, in that the Steelers may pull a 2019 and trade up to snag the Penn State product. If they’re not feeling that wild, maybe they’ll just hope that Tulsa’s Zaven Collins falls to them at 24.
Again, though, that’s all up for debate.
What isn’t up for debate—unless you want to debate me in the comments section—is how the return of Williams makes the Steelers’ inside linebacker position a solid-to-good one in 2021. Will Robert Spillane build on his rather promising 2020 season and reach new heights as the run-stuffing counterpart to Bush’s all-everything in the middle of Pittsburgh’s defense? I’m sure we’ll find that out soon enough. But even if Spillane turns out to be nothing more than a solid backup in 2021, you could do worse than Williams as Bush’s counterpart.
Like Ryan Shazier before him, Bush’s ability to take on a lot of responsibility should free up Williams to do what he does best—destroy running backs and even get after the passer. That’s right, Williams has developed a surprising penchant for sacking the quarterback over the past few seasons, collecting 17 of his career 20.5 career sacks over the past four years.
Not bad for someone who’s considered a step slower than most players who man his position.
We can’t be certain what Williams will add to the Steelers’ future, but we do know his past includes 52 starts since 2017; there actually might have been more starts on Williams’ career resume, but those declined in 2019 when Mark Barron was brought in as a free agent and took some away.
That he outlasted Barron and got his full-time job back in 2020 speaks volumes for the kind of player and teammate Williams has always been for the Steelers.
I know I said I wasn’t going to get into the feel-good stuff, but it’s nice to see Williams come back home for at least another season—the deal is reportedly for one year. Maybe it can be for life if everything falls into place. Williams is 31. Perhaps he realizes he only has another year or two left as a starter in the NFL. After that? Maybe he can wind things down as a reserve.
Hopefully, Williams can do that as a Steeler. How fitting would that be? A former sixth-round draft choice not only makes it in the NFL and goes on to have a lengthy career; he does so with only one team—the one that drafted him.
No matter how you slice it, the Steelers are in a better position now than they were a few days ago when Vince Williams was still looking for a new team to play for.
Welcome home, VinnyVidiVici.