Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert is not known for making a lot of big-splash trades as a key facet of building his team.
But for the second year in a row, an in-season trade to replace an injured player might have been a crucial move.
After Sean Davis was lost for the 2019 season to an injury, Colbert made headlines by trading a first-round pick for Miami safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, who has gone one to become one of the most impactful players in the Pittsburgh defense, currently No. 1 in the league.
This season, it was inside linebacker Devin Bush who was lost to injury, and it was a less splashy trade to acquire Avery Williamson from the New York Jets, while exchanging a fifth-round pick for a seventh-rounder in the 2022 NFL Draft.
The price paid — a drop of at very most 90 spots, and more likely closer to 60 — will have been well worth it, as the Steelers inside linebacker depth has melted around Williamson to the point that he’s now the team’s unquestioned No. 1 at the position entering Sunday’s crucial AFC matchup with the Buffalo Bills.
“It seems someone was really timely making that trade,” defensive coordinator Keith Butler said on Thursday. “You know what I’m saying? You never know. You never know how injuries are going to affect you or what’s going on with COVID. Those situations this year have been a little tougher for us. We have to be, as Mike [Tomlin] says, light on our feet and be able to adjust and make adjustments and stuff like that. That’s the biggest thing for us.”
Backup Ulysees Gilbert III went on the injured reserve list with a back injury two days after Williamson came aboard. Into the void went special teams ace Robert Spillane, who filled in extremely well until he suffered a knee injury on Monday night.
Williamson replaced him in the game against Washington, alongside Vince Williams, and that was the expected starting duo for this week’s game, until Williams was placed on the COVID-19 reserve list on Thursday.
That means it will likely be Williamson and Marcus Allen starting at inside linebacker in Buffalo. When the 2020 season started, one of them was a Jet and the other was a safety.
“Mick [Robert Spillane] does a good job, really comes in and does a good job and then Mick gets hurt, and we have to put somebody else in there,” Butler said. “It’s time for us to step up, backups and stuff like that. If we can do that, we will be alright.”