Steelers: Healthy Gradkowski?

The Steelers have had a big need at backup QB all offseason but with Gradkowski appearing healthy that may have changed.

Bruce Gradkowski was assumed off the Steelers roster for 2016. It was a safe bet. But that may no longer be the case. Apparently the Steelers backup quarterback since 2013 has been practicing and looking solid after an injury. Besides a viable backup quarterback who knows the system being available this could help the Steelers in other ways too.

As was mentioned, Gradkowski is a free agent at the moment. He missed all of last season with a shoulder injury. Odds of his return were not high. The Steelers had been meeting quarterbacks who will be in next week’s draft and there has been speculation around them signing a backup QB as well.

The position is crucial on any team and the Steelers are no exception. Gradkowski was brought in specifically to address the backup QB with a long term fix. The Steelers had spent most of Roethlisberger’s career cramming together new yearly combinations of veterans on one year contracts and late round picks to back up Big Ben. Gradkowski was there to fix that problem.

Gradkowski impressed the Steelers when he beat us with the Raiders in 2009. When he became available a few years later, the Steelers, tiring of their self-imposed backup QB situation, picked him up. Gradkowski always had a wild arm, but going back to his MAC championship in college he puts together wins.

As a backup he brings a number of things to the table. He has a decent arm with serviceable accuracy. He can scramble and improvise, which can come in handy with a new guy on the wheel. He also has poise and confidence. This may be the most important thing. Gradkowski keeps plugging away.

He doesn’t get intimidated by the sudden limelight when entering a game and he doesn’t get discouraged by mistakes. He seems to get along well with the team. There’s also the factor Mike Vick helped us appreciate last year, playbook familiarity.

So, after all of that, and the difficulties the Steelers had in his absence last year, the Steelers would reluctantly wade back into the chaotic waters of searching for a backup QB.

But wait, what’s that? Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tosses a life raft to us when he tweeted on Monday, “Steelers GM Colbert said QB Bruce Gradkowski worked out for them recently and looks healthy. Will evaluate whether to sign him post-draft.”

Bruce is back. The reason this is important is it’s a safety cushion for the Steelers. It gives them options. As was implied by the tweet it has draft implications. It also has free agency implications.

Gradkowski is valuable to the Steelers in part because of his familiarity with the organization. He does not have that same value for other teams. He’s 33 years old and coming off a serious shoulder injury. It’s not going to cost a lot for the Steelers to sign him.

It will certainly cost less than someone like Brian Hoyer, for whom the Steelers would have to bid on with other teams. Being constantly cash strapped, bidding situations are a non-starter. And plus he grew up in Pittsburgh, so he’d likely be willing to take even less to stay here.

So it eases the wallet concerns but also gives more freedom in the draft. What it essentially allows the Steelers to do is raise their standards when it comes to QB. The Steelers have gone from a position where they almost need to get a QB, any QB, to one where they can take one if the right one falls to them, or they can wait to see what next year offers.

If there is no one they want this year, then that obviously frees up a pick to go elsewhere. The Steelers have gone from needing a backup to looking for a backup/eventual starter. They just don’t have to settle anymore, because if they can’t get the dream backup, the post-Ben, good old Bruce can keep the seat warm.

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