PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Steelers expected a bumpy offseason that was going to include some financially prudent but emotionally difficult decisions.
They weren't wrong.
The Steelers cut veteran inside linebacker Vince Williams on Tuesday, a move that will save them $4 million against the salary cup, but also leaves the inside linebacker group both thin and relatively inexperienced.
Pittsburgh also re-signed cornerback Cam Sutton to a two-year deal worth $9 million and brought back offensive tackle Zach Banner, who won the right tackle job out of training camp last summer only to suffer a season-ending knee injury in the opener against the New York Giants.
Williams' exit follows the departure of outside linebacker Bud Dupree, nickel back Mike Hilton and defensive tackle Tyson Alualu in free agency. The exodus represents a significant change for a defense that led the NFL in sacks and finished third in both yards against and points against.
“Truly hate losing great teammates like @vinnywill98,” longtime Steelers defensive tackle Cam Heyward posted on Instagram shortly after the move was announced.
Williams, 31, played 121 games with the Steelers after making the team as a sixth-round draft pick in 2013. He served as an understudy to Lawrence Timmons then took over the starting job in 2017. Williams had 479 tackles and 20 1/2 sacks during his eight seasons with the Steelers and formed a close bond with Ryan Shazier.
The two dubbed themselves “Shake and Bake” after Shazier was drafted in 2014 and Williams became a source of strength for both Shazier and the rest of his teammates after Shazier's career was cut short in December 2017 due to a spinal cord injury.
Banner's return gives the Steelers some continuity along the offensive line following the retirement of center Maurkice Pouncey and the possible departure of left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, who is entering free agency.
“I look like a nomad, I've just been gone for some time because I've just been focusing on myself and just setting goals for what I want to do,” Banner said in a video posted on Twitter. “And one of those is win a Super Bowl with the Pittsburgh Steelers.”
The versatile Sutton made a name for himself by filling a variety of roles since being taken in the third round of the 2017 draft. He took a major step forward in 2020, playing 53% of the defensive snaps and filling in well at cornerback when starters Joe Haden and Steven Nelson sat due to injury or COVID-19 protocols.
“It was really important to obviously build upon what I've already established with Pittsburgh,” Sutton told SiriusXM NFL Radio on Tuesday. “Off of that, just what I can bring to the table so the organization and our defense continue to keep moving in the right direction and put us in the best situation to go win games, go win Super Bowls.”
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