Earlier this week, the Pittsburgh Steelers officially welcomed back quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, who joins a quarterback group on the roster consisting of Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones, and Reserve/Future player Dustin Vaughan. It is likely no coincidence that Gradkowski’s re-signing came after they failed to address the position during the 2016 NFL Draft.
It was abundantly clear that the Steelers would address the quarterback position in some form or fashion over the course of the offseason after both Gradkowski, who spent the entire season on injured reserve, and Mike Vick both saw their contracts expire and become free agents, leaving only Roethlisberger and Jones on the roster.
As head coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert have both stated at various times over the course of the past couple of years, they believe philosophically as an organization in carry three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster, and they should know better than most teams, as they have used three or more quarterbacks several times during seasons in the past decade.
So when they failed to draft a quarterback—and not counting on Vaughan to step up into a viable option for the 53-man roster any time soon—the only thing that seemed to stand in the way of Gradkowski’s re-signing being an inevitability was the status of his health. His signing serves as confirmation that it is in a satisfactory position.
What is less inevitable at this time is who will serve as the Steelers’ backup quarterback: that is, the quarterback who would be active on game days, and would take the field should Roethlisberger get injured.
Although Jones was the quarterback serving that role by the end of last season, the reality is that he was the third option, with Gradkowski being the first. After he suffered a thumb injury and re-aggravated a shoulder injury on a bad snap and was forced to undergo season-ending surgeries, Vick was signed to take over as option number two.
And it may have remained that way had Vick not suffered a hamstring injury in his third start in place of Roethlisberger. Jones had to come in and was able to handle the offense well enough to author a pair of late-game touchdown drives against a quality opponent.
His start the following week, however, and most of his subsequent appearances, did not go over nearly as well, and the brain trust seemed fairly blunt in their unwillingness to designate Jones the team’s backup quarterback.
Gradkowski was brought in on a three-year contract in 2013 the same year they drafted Jones in the fourth-round. The plan was for Gradkowski to serve as the backup until Jones was prepared to do so, but that never came to fruition.
During his three years with the Steelers, Gradkowski has been the first choice as the backup quarterback, in spite of the fact that his injury prevented him from serving in that capacity, ironically, in the one year that they actually needed him. He only played three meaningful snaps during his entire tenure in Pittsburgh.
The circumstances have changes for both backup options, however, since training camp last year, and as a result, we can probably expect to see an open competition for the job between an aging veteran who has recently battled injuries and a younger quarterback who has struggled to live up to his modest expectations. But some competition is better than none, in this situation, and I don’t believe there is a clear favorite at this point.