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Always a good idea to answer the phone

This is why you don't automatically send all phone calls from a different area code to voice mail, especially if you're an NFL general manager or happen to work for one. Because it isn't necessarily one of those recordings from some scammer posing as a representative of a car dealer telling you that your auto warranty is about to expire.

You never know when it might be an employee of another NFL team, and that person might be calling on behalf of his team's first-year coach, with the purpose being to gauge your interest in a player who was a significant/expensive signing or draft pick by the previous regime. And if this really is your lucky day, maybe they're offering an all-situations, three-down Pro Bowl inside linebacker who won't celebrate his 28th birthday until early November.

Boy, are the Steelers tickled they answered the phone that day, because on the other end of the call was a representative of the Jacksonville Jaguars, who was in fact gauging the Steelers' potential interest in Joe Schobert, a 27-year-old inside linebacker with 65 NFL starts who has posted nine interceptions, 24 passes defensed, 11 sacks, and nine forced fumbles, while averaging over 100 tackles a season over his five-year professional career.

If I forgot to mention the kind of player being offered was a definite need for the Steelers, because he is, and if I also forgot to mention the kind of player being offered was the kind the Steelers would be looking to add between now and the start of the 2021 regular season, that's on me, because he was that, too.

So many times, these kinds of too-good-to-be-true offers involve a player with a fatal flaw. Either he's too old, or discontented with his contract, or unhappy with his role-to-be, or a locker room lawyer, or coming off a significant injury, or he's a jerk. Schobert is none of those things, but another thing he is not is he wasn't hand-picked by new coach Urban Meyer, and history shows that first-year, first-time NFL coaches prefer to surround themselves with coaches and players who fall under the category of "their guys."

This phenomenon that's attached to first-year and/or rookie head coaches is a sufficiently common occurrence throughout the NFL, and the Steelers instruct their young scouts to keep an eye on those teams in that situation because bargains often become available.

Just in recent Steelers history, as examples, Minkah Fitzpatrick became available in Brian Flores first year as the coach of the Miami Dolphins; Dwayne Haskins became available in Ron Rivera's first year as the coach of the Washington Football Team; and Joe Haden became available at the start of Hue Jackson's second season as coach of the Cleveland Browns, but after a 1-15 record in his rookie season on the job, Jackson likely was feeling the heat.

What the Steelers are getting in Schobert is exactly what they need. Not a splash play artist, but Schobert is a tackling machine who also is aware and athletic in coverage. He's a smart, consistent three-down linebacker, and he's also someone who in the 2020 offseason signed a five-year contract worth a reported $53.75 million. The Steelers sent a sixth-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft to Jacksonville, which is a bargain, but assuming the rest of the financial terms on Schobert's contract would cripple any realistic chance of getting a long-term extension done with T.J. Watt.

Nothing specific about the terms of Schobert's remaining contract have been released, but Steelers President Art Rooney II has said getting an extension with Watt done this summer before the start of the regular season is a priority. Rooney isn't the type who tells the media such things because he's in love with the sound of his own voice, so it's doubtful he would approve a move that would sabotage something he said was a priority.

And while the Rooney style of management long has included allowing the hired help to do the jobs for which they were hired, it would be a mistake to believe such a move would be made autonomously by General Manager Kevin Colbert. So that means the Steelers knew there was a realistic scenario in which they could complete the trade for Schobert, still be in good position to get the extension done with Watt, and still have a hunk of working capital on their salary cap to take into the 2021 regular season.

Make no mistake, if all of that couldn't have been accomplished, the trade for Schobert wouldn't have happened.

The Steelers found themselves having a need for reinforcements at inside linebacker because of the Vince Williams' retirement. It wasn't so much the loss of Williams made that much of a difference, because there was no guarantee he would have made the 53-man roster. But the timing of Williams' decision left the Steelers in a spot where they missed out on a window to add somebody at a roster spot where Devin Bush was coming off ACL surgery, where Robert Spillane never had played a full 16-game season, where Ulysees Gilbert had been plagued by injuries in each of the previous two seasons, and where there didn't seem to be any young up-and-coming inside linebackers in the pipeline.

But then the telephone rang.

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