Steelers changing their ways with another in-season trade

PITTSBURGH -- Just before Tuesday's NFL trade deadline, linebacker Avery Williamson posted a photo to his Instagram.

Wearing his green New York Jets uniform and holding an umbrella, Williamson hailed a cab outside the Fulton Center Subway stop in Lower Manhattan.

He captioned his post, "Next Stop ... Pittsburgh."

Hours earlier, Williamson landed with the 7-0 team as his 0-8 Jets dealt him to the Pittsburgh Steelers along with a 2022 seventh-round pick in exchange for a 2022 fifth-rounder. With injuries to Devin Bush and Ulysees Gilbert III, the Steelers needed help at inside linebacker, and the Jets needed draft capital to continue a rebuild.

With the move, Williamson joins a small brotherhood of Steelers who have been acquired by the organization in the middle of the season.

"At the trade deadline, we thought it was necessary if we had an opportunity to get a known commodity, one like Avery Williamson that we are somewhat familiar with and is somewhat familiar with our schematics, and put him into the fold," coach Mike Tomlin said. "With as much ball that we have that lies ahead, it was a prudent thing for us to do. We're excited about having him."

The Steelers have added just four players in the last 25 years via in-season trades, and three of those were made in the past two seasons. It's a sign that while the Steelers are still disciplined in their old school, draft-and-develop principles, the front office isn't afraid to make modern moves to fill positions of need and bolster their chances to win in the immediate future.

Last year, the Steelers orchestrated a blockbuster trade for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick in Week 2, adding him from Miami in exchange for a first-round pick after safety Sean Davis went on injured reserve. And a week later, the Steelers acquired tight end Nick Vannett from the Seattle Seahawks for a fifth-round pick in the 2020 draft, giving Vance McDonald some help while he dealt with a shoulder injury.

"I don't really look at it as the Steelers going out and being aggressive or anything, I just think it's another piece of the puzzle and it's up to us to incorporate that piece," defensive lineman Cam Heyward said of the team's trades. "Last year, picking up Minkah, we were kind of scrambling because we didn't have another safety on the roster, really. We were plugging and playing guys.

"So when we brought Minkah in, we knew he was a heck of a talent, but how could we make him work so quick in this approach? I think we'll see what happens with Avery. I know Rob [Spillane]'s been playing very well, but there's going to be a way to incorporate him as the season continues."

In acquiring both Williamson and Fitzpatrick, the Steelers identified positions of need. The Steelers were high on Fitzpatrick in the 2018 draft, and they met Williamson during Bud Dupree's Pro Day at Kentucky. At the time, Williamson, a college teammate of Dupree, had just finished his first year playing for the Tennessee Titans, who took him in the fifth round of the 2014 draft.

"There was a lot of downtime during the course of that day, and we kind of gravitated toward one another," Tomlin said of meeting Williamson. "His passion for football comes through in general conversation. He's a football lover. He's a football junkie, if you will. I've followed him throughout the course of his career because of that. In the early stages of his career, he played down in Tennessee and played in a system that was very similar to ours not only in terms of how it was constructed but the language itself."

Williamson addresses an area of need. Not only did Bush tear his ACL and is out for the season, but Gilbert, who was playing on passing downs at inside linebacker, went on injured reserve on Wednesday morning with a back injury.

Speaking on Wlliamson's acquisition for the first time Tuesday, Tomlin said that the linebacker, who started six games for the Jets this season and played in 65% of defensive snaps, would be used to support his two starters, Vince Williams and Spillane. Williamson, though, still has to clear through COVID-19 protocols and will be working with the team remotely until Saturday, making odds slim that he plays on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys.

"He's a guy that fortifies depth in an area in which we have been challenged recently," Tomlin said. "We know that we lost Devin Bush and lost Devin Bush for 2020, but additionally to that in recent weeks, Ulysees Gilbert has been less than available with a back. …

"From a long-term standpoint, we have a vision of him, being a third inside linebacker, a guy that's position flexible, a guy that is capable of supporting Robert [Spillane] and Vince [Williams] and being available if anything should happen to either."

Before those deals, the Steelers' last in-season trade came in 2013 when they acquired offensive tackle Levi Brown from the Arizona Cardinals for a conditional pick. He was brought in to compete with Mike Adams. Two weeks later, though, Brown landed on injured reserve after a freak triceps injury during a game warmup and was released by the team in March. Because he wasn't on the active roster for five games, the Steelers didn't have to give up a draft pick.

"We will utilize all the tools at our disposal to fortify our depths and present the strongest football team," Tomlin said. "Sometimes different journeys create different challenges, and we are just responding to what we believe is appropriately the challenges that [Williamson's] journey is providing us."