According to John Reid of the Florida Times-Union, the Jacksonville Jaguars have claimed former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Derwin Gray off waivers. So if Pittsburgh was hoping to re-sign its 2019 seventh-round draft pick (having waived him the day before the win over the Colts), that is no longer possible.
The decision to waive Gray was a curious move, both from a short- and long-term perspective. In essence, Gray was exchanged for inside linebacker Tegray Scales, who was added to the 53-man roster when Gray was waived. (Scales was signed to Pittsburgh’s practice squad on November 11th and has since appeared in three games, playing a total of 31 snaps, all but three of them on special teams.)
To be sure, the Steelers were coming into the Colts game with a crisis at inside linebacker, having the services of Vince Williams and Avery Williamson and literally no one else. Further, the Steelers may have been unsure about Williams’ level of fitness, as he just returned from the Reserve/COVID-19 list after struggling with the symptoms of the virus.
Why Did the Steelers Waive Derwin Gray?
Still, one has to wonder why the Steelers took the risk of exposing Gray via the waiver wire. Was there no one else on the roster that could have been cut?
Recognizing that the Steelers are also thin at outside linebacker, what about Jayrone Elliott? At this point, Elliott, a six-year veteran, probably doesn’t have much more NFL upside, certainly not as compared to Gray.
The reality is that special teams considerations probably led the Steelers to waive Gray instead of Elliott (who played 12 snaps on special teams and three snaps on defense on Sunday).
On the other hand, the Steelers are thin on the offensive line, too, especially with left guard Matt Feiler on injured reserve and not eligible to return until the postseason.
More importantly, the Steelers are getting old across the offensive line. Left tackle Al Villenueva, center Maurkice Pouncey and right guard guard David DeCastro are all on the wrong side of 30, and Villenueva will be an unrestricted free agent after the season. A developmental prospect like Gray, who is young, inexpensive and versatile, would seem to have been of value entering training camp in 2021.
Who knows, perhaps the Steelers like what they have seen from offensive guard Danny Isidora, (who was signed off Kansas City’s practice squad in mid-December), and they chose to prioritize Isidora over Gray.
The Steelers Lost Fred Johnson to the Bengals in 2019
But it’s worth noting that the Steelers lost another promising young offensive lineman via the waiver wire just last year. In mid-October of 2019, the team waived rookie undrafted free agent Fred Johnson (and linebacker Jayrone Elliott) to make room on the roster for RB Trey Edmunds and QB Paxton Lynch, hoping to bring Johnson back after he cleared waivers.
Yet he was claimed by Cincinnati, and now it’s the Bengals who are developing him. In fact, he has started five of the 11 games in which he has appeared this season, and he started for the Bengals at left tackle when Cincinnati beat the Steelers on December 21st.
While it’s neither here nor there at this point, I’d be interested to find out whether more than one team put in a waiver claim for Gray. By virtue of having the worst record in the NFL, the Jaguars are awarded any player they choose to claim, but other NFL teams may have tried to claim him as well.
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