PITTSBURGH -- Thirteen-year veteran cornerback Willie Williams, the last link to the Pittsburgh Steelers' most recent Super Bowl appearance, has been released by the team in order to clear a roster spot for tight end Matt Kranchick.
The Steelers elevated Kranchick from the practice squad to compensate for an ankle injury that will sideline Jerame Tuman for Sunday night's game against the Cleveland Browns. The injury left rookie Heath Miller, the Steelers' first-round pick, as the lone healthy tight end, and Pittsburgh often deploys in two-tight end formations.
Unless the Steelers re-sign Williams after Tuman recovers, it could mark the end of the veteran cornerback's NFL career.
Williams, 34, overcame size limitations to carve out a solid career with the Steelers (1993-1996 and 2004-2005) and Seattle Seahawks (1997-03), a tenure during which the former Western Carolina star appeared in 187 games.
A feisty cornerback, who depended on guile more than talent over the past few seasons, Williams started double-digit games as recently as 2004, when he took over on the left corner because of injuries, and played surprisingly well. This season, he appeared in just three games, and had one start.
The Steelers' collection of excellent young cornerbacks -- Deshea Townsend, Ike Taylor, Ricardo Colclough and Bryant McFadden -- cut significantly into Williams' playing time this season. Taylor won the starting job that Williams held for most of the 2004 season and is emerging as an excellent two-way defender.
In his 187 appearances, Williams registered 646 tackles, four sacks, 26 interceptions and 103 passes defensed. Arguably his best season was in 1995, when he had 68 tackles, seven interceptions and 17 passes defensed for the Steelers, as the team advanced to Super Bowl XXX that year. He signed with Seattle as a free agent in 1997, then returned to Pittsburgh last year after the Seahawks released him.
Because he is a "vested" veteran, the Steelers must pay Williams his full base salary, of $765,000, for the season.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.