An exploration of the Steelers' options and their salary cap ramifications, concerning the injured Byron Leftwich.
With two broken ribs, and a Brian Hoyer; parts of Steeler Nation are getting out their scissors.
Byron Leftwich, who will be 33 at the end of the 2012 season, has been the starting quarterback for three NFL teams including his stints with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was a first round pick when he was drafted, and was fought over by high ranking members of the front offices of at least two teams upon his drafting. This resume was filled, despite his notoriously long delivery.
Lately, fans and media members have begun to question his football integrity, because of his physical integrity. By now, most of us know of his heroics with Marshall University. If that wasn't enough, he played over a quarter of NFL football with multiple broken ribs. The deep passes that fell yards short, and off target; become laughable when you consider the how that injury affects the mechanics of a forward pass. Maybe his fragility can be questioned, but not his toughness, or his will to lead his team to victory at any cost.
Despite that fortitude, Leftwich shouldn't expect "Get Well" wishes from the salary cap.
Broken ribs don't heal in a weak; and no flak jacket will fix them either. The Steelers, having only one healthy passer left, were forced to bring in a free agent. Enter Brian Hoyer, now the fourth active quarterback on a rather crowded 53 man roster. Fans have become "concerned" about what to do with Leftwich, since he can't play. Should we place him on injured reserve? Should we cut him, since Ben is returning before season's end; and before Byron Leftwich? Here are our options:
1. Cut him and give someone else his seat on the bus. Leftwich's salary cap hit for this year was $605,000, with no signing bonus. Unless the rules about cutting injured players says otherwise, his hit could be cut clean leaving no dead money or penalty. His salary would cover the salary of anyone that replaced him, and save cap space in most cases. However, I ask you this; when we're heading into the playoffs, would you rather have: 3 QB's with a combined 30-plus years of NFL starting experience; or a usually gimpy Ben Roethlisberger, a 40 year old Charlie Batch, and a Brian Hoyer? Byron could be healthy by the playoffs.
2. Place him on injured reserve. Designation for return is not an option. If you vote for number 2, you choose Roethlisberger, Charlie Batch, and Hoyer. The team salary cap figure is comprised of the top 51 active roster members. Because njured/reserve creates a roster exemption, another player is signed in place of the injured player because they will not return until the following season. Leftwich's salary would be taken off the ledger like cutting him, though he would still get paid. However, since this is the only season on his contract, why not cut him and pay him an injury settlement which doesn't affect cap math, except to save $605,000. Brian Hoyer signed for $615,000. You could have kept Baron Batch or Marshall McFadden. Unless, you're voting for Option....
3. Cut Hoyer the day Roethlisberger and/or Leftwich are healthy, and consider yourself fortunate to have those three amigos as your quarterbacks come playoff time. Had there been any other intention for Leftwich by the front office, it would have been done already. The coaches, owners, and front office appreciate what we have. Most other teams envy the Steelers. The Chicago Bears would've loved to have Byron Leftwich on their roster, when Jay Cutler was lost for the season. The Texans would have, too.
Whether you are crazy about his mechanics or anatomy, or not; Leftwich isn't going anywhere. Perhaps the fact that Mike Tomlin chose to leave Leftwich in the game against the Ravens under his own physical recognizance, should speak volumes to the Steelers' assessment of Leftwich.