The Pittsburgh Steelers lost a first-rounder and then added one. In this case I’m not talking about second-year safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, coming in and replacing the injured Sean Davis at free safety, who was placed on the Reserve/Injured List.
I’m talking about Paxton Lynch, the 2016 first-round pick of the Denver Broncos, an organization that has proven it’s not very good at drafting quarterbacks. But rather than spending the 26th-overall pick on him, the Steelers have simply signed him to the practice squad.
Lynch started four games for the Broncos in 2016 and 2017, completing 79 of 128 passes for 792 yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions and a quarterback rating of 76.7. Last year, the Broncos released him after acquiring Kevin Hogan, and he spent the 2018 season out of football. The Seattle Seahawks released him in 2019 at the end of the preseason, and had been unemployed for the past two weeks.
With Devlin Hodges promoted from the practice squad to the 53-man roster, the Steelers added Lynch to the former roster. “We wanted to fortify the position with some depth”, Mike Tomlin said during his pre-game press conference yesterday. “The fact that he has practice squad eligibility provides awesome flexibility for us where we can infuse him into the culture and teach him and evaluate him without occupying a 53-man roster spot”.
This remains a significant departure from the Steelers’ norm, as they’ve pretty much always carried three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster for as long as one can remember, outside of a couple of special circumstances. Even in 2016, when Bruce Gradkowski was injured, they claimed Zach Mettenberger off waivers in August and rostered him.
“We acquired Paxton Lynch because he is practice squad-eligible”, Tomlin added, after he was asked if the team had explored the option of Colin Kaepernick, “and we can bring him up to speed and evaluate him without utilizing a roster spot”.
As I wrote about earlier today, he referred to the “short term” multiple times when referring to Hodges, so it’s possible that the Steelers are open to Lynch having the capability of upward mobility over the course of the season as he progresses.
While they like Hodges, obviously, he is a guy who has never played before, and is a rookie. With Lynch, at least, you know that he has started games, even if he hasn’t been fabulously successful. If, say, Mason Rudolph has a minor injury in Week 14 and somebody has to start the following week, isn’t it reasonable to wonder if Lynch might get that chance?
Only the course of events will determine that. After all, we are talking about a guy who has not been on a team for 18 consecutive regular season games. That is not a ringing endorsement. But if he earns the right, then he earns the right.