Grading the Trade: Washington Commanders Deal William Jackson III to the Pittsburgh Steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers swapped future late-round picks with the Washington Commanders for CB William Jackson III who can revive his career

The Pittsburgh Steelers swapped future late-round picks with the Washington Commanders for William Jackson III, a cornerback that the Commanders had signed in 2021 to a massive deal after a successful career in Cincinnati.

Jackson couldn’t get his bearings straight in Washington, and the Steelers need to add talent to a secondary that has some worthwhile high-end talent but little certainty outside of Minkah Fitzpatrick.

Pittsburgh Steelers Acquire William Jackson III from Washington Commanders

Per NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport, the deal for Jackson involves a conditional 6th-round pick in 2025 being swapped for a conditional 7th-round pick in 2025. That makes the cost to the Steelers minimal and allows them to essentially test-drive a player who had done so much damage to them over the past few seasons.

There’s reason to believe that moving from one of the most unstable organizations in the NFL to the most stable will do wonders for Jackson, who has legitimate all-star talent. We’ve seen defensive backs immediately improve their level of play after a move to Pittsburgh, including Joe Haden and Minkah Fitzpatrick.

This move also reunites Jackson with his former defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, who oversaw his stellar 2018 season and set the course for Jackson’s eventual big-money deal with the Commanders.

If there are concerns about the environment or system fit, the Steelers have that covered. At the same time, the Steelers add depth or a potential starter opposite Cameron Sutton. The cornerback room otherwise has featured James Pierre, Josh Jackson, Arthur Maulet, and a severely underperforming Ahkello Witherspoon, who was just recently benched.

The cheap gamble for someone with a history of high-level play without much risk for the Steelers – $15 million of Jackson’s $26 million deal with Washington was tied up in a signing bonus, and another $6 million in guaranteed has been paid out already – gives them something they need as they build for the future.

Grade: A-

Washington Commanders Trade William Jackson III to the Pittsburgh Steelers

It says something positive about a team when they’re willing to admit mistakes early and move on, something that seemingly needed to happen with Jackson after signing Jackson to an incredibly player-friendly deal that obligated Washington to a significant amount of money upfront with cap penalties in 2024 regardless of if they moved him or kept him.

Not getting much value out of Jackson is still a big loss, however, and they eat a significant amount of salary to let another team see if they can tap into what made Jackson such an appealing free agent in the first place, meaning Washington takes all of the risk and generates very little reward.

Washington needs picks, but none of the draft capital they received in the trade comes in the 2023 draft, instead coming in 2024 or later as a move up from one round in Day 3 to another. While Washington was considering cutting Jackson outright, there still should have been meat left on the bone to dangle him to other franchises. Now, Washington can’t do much to help their future franchise quarterback, whoever that may end up being.

Grade: C-

William Jackson III Gets Another Opportunity to Revive His Career

Reuniting with the defensive coordinator with whom he had his best season, Jackson has an opportunity to make good on the massive deal he signed, even if he’s doing it for someone else. Because he has no incoming guaranteed money for 2023, he’ll need to use this year to prove he’s worth extending.

It’s quite possibly the best environment he could have imagined for a career revival, though he still has a short leash due to the nature of his contract. The Steelers do have a need at corner and would welcome an upgrade over Witherspoon, who has been a liability for Pittsburgh.

Jackson also matches up against speed a bit better, allowing the Steelers to be flexible in how they deploy him – much like how they were flexible with Haden and Fitzpatrick after acquiring them.

It’s not perfect – the contract situation allows the Steelers to draft his replacement without regret – but it’s pretty good.

Grade: A-


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