If you're wondering why the Steelers traded Melvin Ingram III, the answer likely could be found within two comments Coach Mike Tomlin made on Tuesday. One of which he has used time and again, and the other came up midway through his weekly news conference at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
The comment from the archives, which he repeated again: "It's better to have volunteers as opposed to hostages." And then just as significant: "Obviously, we're extremely comfortable with the growth and development of Alex Highsmith."
A couple of hours before the scheduled noon start of Tomlin's weekly news conference, the Steelers sent out a release to announce the team had traded Ingram to the Kansas City Chiefs in exchange for a sixth-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. A short time later, the Steelers also announced they had added Taco Charlton to the 53-man roster, signed placekicker Josh Lambo and defensive lineman Khalil Davis to the practice squad, and released defensive lineman Chris Slayton from the practice squad.
"On the trade front, we (announced) this morning that we traded Melvin Ingram," said Tomlin. "I enjoyed working with Melvin. It just didn't work out the way we envisioned, the way he envisioned, and sometimes that happens in free agency. And that's really, culturally why we build our team primarily through the draft. When you do business with guys from the time they're 20, 21 (years old), you get an opportunity to be a part of their growth and development, and they get an opportunity to buy into your system of football and their roles within it at a very young age. It just makes the division of labor thing more fluid.
"Free agency makes it more cumbersome at times to get to know (each other) on a lot of levels as you're preparing to play games, and so it's good for him. We wish him the best moving forward, but it's also good for us. We're excited about the growth and development of Taco (Charlton). He has been on our practice squad for over a month now, and we had an opportunity to elevate him (from the practice squad) for the game vs. Cleveland. He gave us more than adequate work there. And so we're going to continue to give him opportunities along with Derrek (Tuszka) to fortify depth at the outside linebacker position. Obviously we're extremely comfortable with the growth and development of Alex Highsmith."
As a response to Bud Dupree doing the expected and leaving via free agency in March, the Steelers went looking for a veteran outside linebacker to provide depth and some in-game rest to their Batman and Robin due of T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith. When veteran Ryan Kerrigan decided to sign with the Philadelphia Eagles, the Steelers and Ingram, 32, came to agreement on a 1-year contract for a reported $4 million.
At first, it seemed like the perfect arrangement that was making all parties happy. In the opener, Ingram played 54 snaps as Watt got acclimated to full-speed contact after an offseason of conditioning and individual drills. Then, as groin injuries struck both Watt and Highsmith, Ingram played 57 snaps against the Raiders, then every snap the following week against the Bengals. As Watt and Highsmith returned to health, Ingram's snap-counts dropped to 35, then 36, then 17 vs. Seattle, before his own groin injury had him miss the game vs. the Browns.
Through channels, Ingram made his displeasure over decreased playing time known and requested a trade. According to reports, the Steelers initially balked at trading him to an AFC team, but as the trading deadline approached they sent him to the Chiefs for that sixth-round pick in 2022. Based on Tomlin's answers to questions about a trade to an AFC team for a third-day draft pick, it sounded as though the Steelers took the best offer they could get for an unhappy player because they didn't want him to become a distraction on a young team that seems to be coming together after a 1-3 start to this season.
"What the team needs is first and foremost. And that's just how it goes," said Tomlin about balancing team needs vs. the desires of an individual player. "That's the component of team sport and football in particular. That's always first and foremost, but from a team perspective, also it's better to have volunteers as opposed to hostages. So that's good for the team as well."
And while fans might not perceive a sixth-round pick to be sufficient compensation, a player's worth in a trade is never more than what a buyer is willing to pay.
"That's always a component of the discussion, but that's why you play the market," said Tomlin. "You see who's interested and at what level. At the end of the day we've got to make decisions that are best for us … That's just standard business."
And now the Steelers will turn to Charlton and Derrek Tuszka to provide depth and in-game rest for Watt and Highsmith.
"He's a talented guy. That's why he was taken where he was taken in the draft (28th overall in 2017)," said Tomlin about Charlton. "I think he was taken before T.J. Watt (30th overall). He's long. He's athletic. He's got an appetite for the rush component of play. He's good with his hands against tight ends and tight end-like people. He's an outside linebacker who spent some time as a defensive lineman in this league and in college. And those guys usually play with heavy hands, which makes them good in the run game. He's very similar to Melvin Ingram in that way, and so there is a lot to be excited about in terms of what he might be able to contribute to us."
When it became apparent Ingram was not going to play vs. the Browns, the Steelers moved Charlton from the practice squad to the active roster, and they had him in uniform vs. the Browns. Charlton played 10 defensive snaps in Cleveland and wasn't credited with any statistics. Tomlin was asked whether that "audition" was a factor in the decision to trade Ingram.
"A huge component of it," said Tomlin.
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"From an injury standpoint, Chris Boswell is in the concussion protocol. I'll keep you abreast as he goes through that process, but there's nothing that alarms us in terms of the process he's in, but it is a process and so we'll let those guys do what it is they do. If (Boswell) is cleared and ready to go, he'll be our kicker on Monday night. (Eric) Ebron is still working hard (on his hamstring). I just finished meeting with him. He's in the pool, working to get his hamstring squared away as quickly as possible. Other than that, we're largely healthy which is an exciting thing. We'll keep working and divide up the labor and find the best mix that puts us in position to win this game (vs. the Bears) … It is a weekly update (on Stephon Tuitt), but it's very similar to last week. It's been a good week. He's getting better. No negativity in terms of anything to report regarding his work to return, but not close enough to put any color to it more than what I just described."