There are some articles you write that you just know are going to go over a certain way even before you type a single word. This is going to be one of those articles. And yet I’m going to write it anyway.
The Pittsburgh Steelers said goodbye to Landry Jones yesterday after spending five seasons with the team, about half of which he served as the primary backup to starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He was tasked with starting five games in that span and won three of them. In all appearances, he commanded two game-winning drives and a comeback victory.
I have no especial affinity for Jones, in spite of what some particularly devout fans of Joshua Dobbs may have come to think over the course of the past few weeks. He is not a personal favorite player by any means, but he is a player who has been routinely underestimated along every step of the way, and that has led me and others to defend him over the course of his career.
The truth is that Jones was about what you would expect a quarterback to be where you drafted him. If this is not something that you believe, then I would recommend not looking up the history of quarterbacks who were drafted on the third day of the draft, because you will probably be appalled by what you see.
It took him longer to develop into a respectable player than the Steelers would have liked. He even regressed in his second season, putting up a worse performance during the training camp and preseason schedule of the 2014 season. But he steadily rose from that point on and became a legitimately solid backup quarterback.
There are some who make no distinction between the backup quarterback role and the starter in waiting, and for that group of people, there will never be any acceptable defense behind re-signing Jones to a second contract, of which he ultimately saw half of the two-year pact.
But not every backup quarterback is a quarterback who in the future will be a successful starter, and it’s not necessary for that to be the case. It’s not even necessary that they be a previously failed starter, such as Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich.
Jones’ critics love to cite the fact that the only team that he has beaten in games that he has played from start to finish is the Cleveland Browns. What they don’t do is cite the actual game tape. The level of play that he showed throughout the majority of his last two starts—both starts against Cleveland—showed the sort of growth that he made.
The Steelers didn’t give Jones many opportunities to contribute this offseason, in training camp or the preseason, because they wanted to get a long look at their two young arms, both of which they kept. But once the preseason was over, I still thought that Jones was the backup quarterback who, if called up to start, gave the team the best chance to win the game.
I still believe that, and I think Pittsburgh is taking a risk in saying goodbye, but I also understand the reasoning behind the decision, and I’m sure that also recognize the vulnerability of having no backups with any NFL experience.
With that said, I just wanted to acknowledge Jones’ time in Pittsburgh for what it was, assuming that it’s come to an end for good. As a fourth-round draft pick, he developed over the course of five seasons into a solid backup option, but was never accepted by the fanbase. That’s unfair, but that’s life. I’m sure he’ll find another team soon enough. The Cincinnati Bengals currently only have Jeff Driskel behind Andy Dalton.