Over the past three years, Pittsburgh Steelers‘ quarterback Byron Leftwich has been Mike Tomlin’s unquestioned choice as the team’s backup to Ben Roethlisberger. Despite Charlie Batch‘s ever-presence on the roster, and former fifth round draft pick Dennis Dixon being a part of the team up until this past season, Leftwich was always first in line whenever Roethlisberger was unavailable for whatever reason.
Three times during his second stint with the team, after initially being a part of the 2008 Super Bowl winning roster and winding up with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2009, the Steelers have looked to Leftwich. The first came in 2010 after the team acquired Leftwich in a trade to fill in for Roethlisberger during his four game suspension to start the season. Leftwich received the majority of the first team snaps during the preseason and was slated to start for Roethlisberger before being injured in the preseason finale. Not only did Leftwich miss the first four games of the season, but he was also cut temporarily when the team needed to add another defensive tackle later in the year.
Leftwich’s knee injury cost him an opportunity to start for the Steelers in 2010, but he returned in 2011 nonetheless. Once again he was injured in the pre-season, but this time his broken arm would rule him out for the whole season before it had even begun. Even though Roethlisberger entered the season healthy and without a suspension hanging over his head, he was injured in Week 14 against the Cleveland Browns and Batch would fill in for him two weeks later against the St. Louis Rams. Of course Batch was a proven veteran playing on a team already destined for the playoffs, at home against one of the worst teams in the league, so the Steelers escaped any issues with him under center.
Yet, fast forward to this season and Leftwich’s inability to stay healthy once again has finally caught up to the Steelers. In 2010 they started the season 3-1 with Dixon starting one game and Batch the other three. Last year, Batch’s one start was as irrelevant as a start in this league can be. This year, the Steelers lost Roethlisberger to a serious injury against the Kansas City Chiefs. Against one of the worst teams in the league, Leftwich came in and needed an interception from Lawrence Timmons in overtime to get the victory. Before Shaun Suisham kicked that game winning field goal however, Leftwich had already managed to injury himself again. Despite playing less than two quarters of regular season football, Leftwich injured his shoulder. The injury wasn’t significant enough to sideline him, but it would rear it’s head the following week.
Against the Baltimore Ravens in a game the Steelers were desperate to win, Leftwich had a fine first drive forcing a big pass interference penalty before running in a 31 yard touchdown. Alas, on that play, despite seemingly absorbing very little contact if any at all, Leftwich fractured his ribs. Instead of coming out of the game, Leftwich was obviously determined not to suffer the same fate as he had so many times over, so he stayed on the field. Inevitably that proved to be a selfish move as he visibly couldn’t throw the football properly anymore. It was shocking that Batch was kept on the sideline, and even more shocking that Leftwich wasn’t the one released this week when the Steelers brought in Brian Hoyer.
Needless to say the Steelers lost to the Ravens, and Leftwich is back on the sidelines with Batch slated to start this week’s game against the Browns. The only mystery left to solve, is what leverage does Leftwich hold over Steelers’ head coach Mike Tomlin? There is no earthly reason why he should be ahead of Batch on the team’s depth chart. Batch has proven time and time again to be a reliable player when called upon, while Leftwich has only proved to be the opposite.
Never will you find a superstar backup quarterback on the day that you draft or sign him, but some level of consistency and reliability must be found at the position for it to carry any value. Leftwich offers neither to the Steelers. There is no reason to keep him on the roster even with Roethlisberger injured right now. Hoyer has youth and potential on his side at the very least, even if he can’t stay healthy either.
Furthermore, now that Todd Haley is running the offense, Leftwich no longer fits the short passing attack that the team runs with the starting quarterback. It makes no sense to carry a backup that forces you to completely alter your approach and ask everyone else on the offense to play a different style.