The undefeated Steelers (2-0) enter this week’s road game at undefeated and surprising Tampa Bay (2-0) with a precarious situation at quarterback. The debate among many fans centered on if Pittsburgh needed to add another body at quarterback to be on the roster this weekend. Mike Tomlin answered this at his Tuesday press conference, saying the Steelers would not sign a third QB to the roster this week.
Dennis Dixon, who started Pittsburgh’s first two games due to the four-game suspension of superstar quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, left Sunday’s win over the Titans with a torn meniscus in his left knee, and now it appears that he’s sidelined for 3-5 weeks.
Dixon was replaced by veteran Charlie Batch, who most Steeler insiders expected to be released three weeks ago. Incidentally, Dixon was likely only starting because No. 2 quarterback Byron Leftwich suffered an MCL sprain in the team’s final preseason game.
Leftwich will almost assuredly dress this Sunday, although it remains to be seen if the Steelers elect to start the more healthy Batch. However, the 35-year-old Batch is very injury –prone and Leftwich would have to play after returning from injury faster than many projected.
Therefore, logic dictated that it would have been prudent for the Steelers to sign a quarterback this week to be their No. 3 QB on the roster this Sunday. If they elected to do so, Pittsburgh would have had three options. The first was to sign someone already familiar with the team’s system. The only available, active player who remotely fit that criteria was former Pitt star Tyler Palko, who could be signed off the Kansas City Chiefs’ practice squad.
Palko would not have difficulty finding a place to stay in the area. However, his career with the Steelers consisted of two weeks last season when Roetlisberger was injured. Thus, he is no expert on the team’s playbook.
Option No. 2 was to sign an available veteran like Jeff Garcia, but the Steelers have never shown any interest in doing this in the past, so why change now?
Option No. 3 was to sign an athletic quarterback who seemingly could make some plays with his legs if need be in an emergency situation. The Steelers are reportedly working out Troy Brown, a seventh-round pick of the Bills last season, this week. He would have fit that bill, but is instead more likely working out for a shot at the Pittsburgh practice squad.
However, a huge problem was how would the Steelers have made room for a stop-gap No. 3 quarterback on their jam-packed 53-man roster? The team only caries 6 defensive linemen and three tight ends, so no one would be released from those areas. Special teams standouts Anthony Madison and Keyaron Fox are too important to be cut even for one week, and the Steelers would not dare risking one of their talented, young reserves at linebacker or in the secondary be claimed by another team off waivers.
There was an outside chance they could have released offensive tackle Tony Hills, who was unimpressive Sunday against the Titans. However, the team only kept nine offensive linemen on its roster (some years, the Steelers keep 10), starting tackle Max Starks is returning from injury and the other starting tackle, Flozell Adams, is 35 and easily tires, because he is out of shape. Thus, the Steelers could not afford to cut any offensive linemen.
That left only four viable options:
1. Release rookie running back Jonathan Dwyer to sign a third quarterback. The Steeles would have tried to resign Dwyer to its practice squad for two weeks, hoping Dwyer was not claimed by another team’s 53-man roster or elected to sign with another team’s practice squad. They could have then promised him that he would be resigned to the team’s regular-season roster within two weeks. Dwyer does not dress for games and would not be missed in the short-term.
2. Release veteran, reserve WR Aranz Battle and promise that you will resign him to the roster if he waits two weeks. As a vested veteran, Battle (unlike Dwyer) would have had the option of turning down other team’s overtures, but would he? Plus, unlike Dwyer, the Steelers actually dress Battle on gamedays and use him on special teams.
3. Place Dixon on injured reserve, thus ending his season. The Steelers would be very comfortable having Roethlisberger, Leftwich and Batch as its quarterbacks for the rest of the season. However, what happens if either Batch or Leftwich get hurt in the next two weeks, which certainly is not a farfetched scenario? In that case, the Steelers would regret not keeping Dixon on their roster and cutting Batch down the road in the event that everyone else stays healthy at QB.
4. Do not sign a third quarterback, pray Batch and Leftwich can handle the load for two weeks before Roethlisberger returns, and give slot WR Antwaan Randle El more reps in practice at quarterback in case of an emergency. The gamble of option No. 4 seemed the Steelers’ best bet, and thus that was the route they ultimately selected. But if either Batch or Leftwich go down with an injury against the Bucs, expect Pittsburgh to sign a QB to its 53-man roster by next Tuesday.