It is seemingly true that the fan base of the Pittsburgh Steelers has a tendency to be better-informed about their team than the average fan base, with the ability to recite the 53-man roster from memory. For such fans, training camp and the preseason are in many ways nearly as interesting as the games that actually count.
A byproduct of this is, of course, that we get heated discussions about, in this case, the third-string quarterback position, as became apparent yesterday when we previewed the position battle in our preparations for training camp. But there is something that feels unique about the current situation.
I can’t for the life of me recall a third-string quarterback that has drawn more ire over a sustained period of time, but I do understand that there is a variety of factors that contribute to the amount of attention that he receives, outside of his performance.
For starters, the Steelers used a fourth-round draft pick on Landry Jones in 2013, which is the highest that they have taken a quarterback since Ben Roethlisberger in 2004. Not only that, they also traded away a future third-round pick to double-dip in the fourth round that year. Many believe that the player that they targeted in the trade—Shamarko Thomas—could have been had in Jones’ spot, and that Jones should not have been drafted altogether.
There is also a small contingent that believes that we should have already been grooming Roethlisberger’s replacement, even after his signing a new five-year contract. It seems nearly universal that the successor to the throne is not currently on the roster, which means, of course, that the team has to move on.
Not many quarterbacks drafted beyond the first or second round, after all, ever amount to much of anything, with a few obvious exceptions that need not be named. The probability of selecting a franchise quarterback in the fourth round is phenomenally low. Jones was never drafted with the idea in mind that he would replace Roethlisberger.
Were he to even develop into a capable backup, however, that would be a successful selection, which most everybody does understand. But through his first two seasons, he has yet to show that, and there has been nothing particularly compelling yet this offseason to suggest that we might be in for a change.
Perhaps the biggest factor in this whole discussion comes down to value. Obviously the aforementioned draft pick value is a topic of conversation, but the prized possession here is the 53rd spot on the roster. And indeed Jones is the 53rd man unless one of the two quarterbacks ahead of him is injured, as he has never dressed for a game.
With the rule change years ago that the third quarterback does not dress unless he is active, the value of carrying a third quarterback has been reduced, and more than a handful of teams have elected to carry just two on their roster.
There are many who believe that the Steelers should become one of those teams, arguing that they simply don’t have a third quarterback with the pedigree to justify occupying the roster spot that can be used to enhance another position.
Really, it’s an argument I can’t much contest until I see evidence to the contrary. And until we do see such evidence, or until the coaching staff actually steps out of its comfort zone and carries just two quarterbacks, we will continue to hear a comically disproportionate amount about a third-year player who has never put on a jersey beyond the month of August.