The timing of the Steelers' decision to release potential back-up quarterback Troy Smith was curious, as we wrote back in June.
Minicamp had come and gone, and with little opportunity to prove himself behind incumbent veterans Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich, it seemed at least worth everyone's time to at least give him a look while running the offense he'd just barely learned this offseason while in pads.
A feature on Smith, written by Cleveland Plain-Dealer reporter Bill Lubinger, paraphrases Smith's account of what he heard when the former Ohio State Heisman Trophy winner was released.
Head coach Mike Tomlin had assured him, "We know you've got good football left," and to not get caught up in the depth chart or who took snaps with which offense.
"We've got one starter. That's Ben Roethlisberger," Smith recalled the coach saying. "Everyone else is competing for a position."
"First and foremost," (Steelers general manager Kevin) Colbert said, "he was a winner."
After Smith was cut, Colbert, through a team spokesman, declined an interview request. Smith said Tomlin called him before the team announced his release. Tomlin told Smith he thought he could start in this league, and that they wanted to let him go early enough to catch on with another team.
And we weren't far off our guess he was released early simply out of respect so he could catch on somewhere else. That's another way of saying the Steelers cashed in their insurance policy on the re-signing of QB Byron Leftwich.
At the point Smith signed a future's contract with the team, Leftwich was a free agent. After a quiet flirtation with the Indianapolis Colts and former Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, Leftwich re-signed with the Steelers, thus putting huge doubt on Smith's ability to make the roster barring injury.
At that point, the Steelers could either make him languish away competing for a spot he cannot win without misfortune falling on someone else, or they could release him with enough time for him to catch on somewhere else and have a legitimate shot of continuing his career in the NFL.
This may not be the last we hear of Smith, either. Plus, Leftwich hasn't made it through training camp and the preseason without suffering an injury in what seems like forever.