On Tuesday Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin revealed that ILB Devin Bush will have surgery on Wednesday to repair his season-ending ACL injury. During the same press conference Tomlin also indicated that backup LB Robert Spillane will “largely” serve as Bush’s replacement, though other players could also be part of the solution, including safety-turned-linebacker Marcus Allen and perhaps Ulysees Gilbert III, who has been inactive for all five games this season.
In fact, the Steelers have already started looking at adding linebacker depth, hence Ray Wilborn’s visit on Monday. But the Steelers will also consider adding a proven, experienced inside linebacker via trade.
Last year’s Minkah Fitzpatrick trade aside, the Steelers have tended to avoid giving up a significant asset in-season (or making any in-season trades), but the Steelers might consider trading as much as a fourth-round pick if Bush’s absence leads to glaring deficiencies in the next few games.
Obviously, the Steelers will need to be able to fit any new acquisition under the salary cap; it’s also important that any linebacker they acquire has a contract that expires at the end of the 2020 season, as Bush ought to be able to return for the 2021 campaign.
With that in mind, following are two linebackers who might be a candidate for trade.
Avery Williamson, New York Jets
At 0-6 the New York Jets are the worst team in football and have already been making moves with next season in mind. This past Sunday the Jets traded former Steelers nose tackle Steve McLendon to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; more noticeably, New York released former Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell, who was subsequently signed by the Kansas City Chiefs, as I predicted.
So it’s very possible that the Jets would be willing to part with Avery Williamson for a mid- to late-round draft choice and have the Steelers responsible for the remainder of his $2.75 million salary this season. Williamson, 28, was drafted by the Tennessee Titans in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft and played four years in Nashville before signing with the Jets in 2018.
He has made 79 starts over the course of his career, with 533 career tackles (346 solo), as well as 26 tackles for loss, 25 quarterback hits, 14.5 sacks and four interceptions. This season he has 33 tackles (10 solo), with 3 passes defensed and one interception.
For what it’s worth, Williamson may have foreshadowed the future when he recently noted that “nobody’s safe” from being cut or traded by the Jets, a statement that head coach Adam Gase did not dispute when asked about Williamson’s statement.
Jarrad Davis, Detroit Lions
A second realistic possibility is Jarrad Davis (6-1, 245 pounds), a first-round pick of the Detroit Lions in 2017 (21st overall) out of the University of Florida. Davis was on Pittsburgh’s radar screen in the draft that year as the team had him in for a pre-draft visit on the same day it hosted James Conner. He’s in the last year of his rookie contract, as the Lions declined to pick up his fifth-year option, so the Steelers would only be responsible for the balance on his $1.96 million salary before he hits free agency at the end of the year.
Jarrad has started 43 of 46 games during his NFL career, having amassed 274 total tackles (183 solo), with 19 tackles for loss, 20 quarterback hits, nine passes defensed and one interception.
My best guess is that Pittsburgh won’t make a trade until after the game against the Tennessee Titans, if it makes a trade at all. That gives the coaches another week to evaluate what they have in Spillane & Co., and reduces what they would owe an acquisition in salary by another week.
Meanwhile, it’s likely that the team will sign a free agent like Ray Wilborn or poach a linebacker off another team’s practice squad.
The trade deadline is on Tuesday November 3, two days after the Steelers visit the Baltimore Ravens.
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