The Associated Press
Dennis Waszak Jr.
NEW YORK – Avery Williamson is going from winless to undefeated.
The New York Jets agreed Sunday night to trade the veteran linebacker to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Jets also are sending a 2022 seventh-round draft pick to the Steelers for Pittsburgh’s 2022 fifth-rounder.
The deal, announced by both teams Monday, moves Williamson from the Jets, who are 0-8 after a 35-9 loss at Kansas City, to the 7-0 Steelers, the league’s only undefeated team after a 28-24 win at Baltimore.
The 28-year-old Williamson should immediately help the Steelers, who were in need of an experienced inside linebacker after Devin Bush was lost for the season on Oct. 18 with a torn ACL. Pittsburgh has survived without Bush but the run defence was gashed by the Ravens, who piled up 265 yards rushing but were undone by four turnovers by quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Williamson had been the subject of trade rumours during the off-season because of his hefty salary. He was set to make $6 million in base salary this season, but agreed to restructure his deal for this season. Williamson was making $3.5 million with $1 million in guaranteed money, and was scheduled to be a free agent after this season.
It’s the latest cost-cutting, draft-pick-gathering move by the Jets and general manager Joe Douglas – with the struggling franchise setting its sights on the future ahead of the NFL’s trade deadline on Tuesday.
New York released running back Le’Veon Bell on Oct. 13 after it couldn’t find a trade partner. Bell signed a few days later with Kansas City and ran for 7 yards on six carries against his former team Sunday. He also caught three passes for 31 yards.
The Jets traded nose tackle Steve McLendon to Tampa Bay five days later. New York also sent a 2023 seventh-round draft pick to Tampa Bay in exchange for the Buccaneers’ sixth-rounder in 2022.
Linebacker Jordan Willis was dealt to San Francisco last week along with a 2021 seventh-round draft pick for a sixth-round selection in 2022.
Williamson was signed by the Jets to a three-year, $22.5 million contract in 2018 and quickly established himself as a key playmaker. He had a team-leading 120 total tackles while playing middle linebacker in then-coach Todd Bowles’ defence.
He was expected to team with free-agent signing C.J. Mosley last season to form one of the NFL’s top inside linebacker duos for new defensive co-ordinator Gregg Williams. But Williamson tore the ACL in his right knee in the second preseason game against Atlanta and needed season-ending surgery. Coach Adam Gase took the blame for leaving Williamson in the game late with primarily only backups still playing.
Williamson was inactive for the season opener in September, but played in the last seven games – including starting the past six games. He had a team-leading nine total tackles in New York’s loss at Kansas City. His 59 total tackles this season were second on the team to Neville Hewitt.
Williamson spent his first four NFL seasons with Tennessee after being drafted in the fifth round out of Kentucky in 2014. He has 556 career total tackles, along with 14 1/2 sacks, four interceptions and five forced fumbles. The move reunited him with former Kentucky teammate Bud Dupree, now an outside linebacker for the Steelers.