It wasn't anything planned, but functionally, the Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers swapped reserve linebackers this offseason. Arthur Moats, a 2010 sixth-round pick of the Bills, signed a one-year free agent deal with the Steelers back in March. Stevenson Sylvester, picked by the Steelers a round ahead of Moats, was added to the Bills' roster as a free agent in July, just before the start of training camp.
Moats, who lost his starting job in Buffalo late in the 2013 season, has found a new role in Dick LeBeau's defense with the Steelers.
"He seems to be settling in as the team's top backup outside linebacker," Neal Coolong of Behind the Steel Curtain told me. "Given the injury history of Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones, the Steelers needed to find a veteran with experience who could fill in as needed. His contributory value as a backup as well as his special teams ability make him a smart signing (for a low price) for the Steelers."
There's also a chance that Moats' role will extend beyond the realm of reserve and specialist, as Coolong reports that Moats has been spotted with the first-team defense on specific sub-packages this summer.
"I think Moats will be able to fit into their sub packages to some degree," Coolong says. "His value as a pass rusher from the inside could be utilized. We haven't seen him getting snaps in that spot yet, but it has to be on the mind of LeBeau. More likely than that, though, would be Moats on the outside with Jones floating inside. That's a package we've seen a few times so far in camp, and considering Jones' instincts and ability in space, it could highlight a skill set he isn't showing as often on the edge."
Sylvester, meanwhile, has emerged as a second-team outside linebacker for the Bills in the Jim Schwartz 4-3 defense this summer. It's no sure bet that he'll make the 53-man roster, but given the one-game suspension for projected starter Nigel Bradham on the weak side, it's possible that Sylvester could be a starter when the Bills play the Chicago Bears in Week 1.
The Steelers kept Sylvester around for most of four seasons in the hopes that he could turn into the starting inside linebacker they thought he could be.
"To some degree, I think (the Steelers kept him around to get) something of a return on him," Coolong says of the former Steeler. "He was hurt fairly often, and there was a point in time he was thought to be the replacement for James Farrior. That narrative came more from the team than anything, but hopes were high Sylvester - a solid special teams contributor to that point - could be groomed into a quality starter."
That rhetoric emerged prior to the 2012 season, but another camp injury paved the way for veteran Larry Foote to be a 16-game starter. Sylvester stayed with the Steelers through that season in his usual role, was released prior to 2013, and then re-signed with Pittsburgh as a reserve for nine games a year ago.
He was not retained by the Steelers, and stayed on the open market until the Bills snapped him up in mid-July following the season-ending injury to Kiko Alonso. In training camp, he has not only been a second-team mainstay, but has been one of the top special teams players for the team, as well.
Moats may end up with the bigger role between the two, but the odds are looking strong that both reserve linebackers that have trekked between the Steelers and the Bills this offseason are making out better in their new homes.