Last year at this time, Ben Roethlisberger mentioned that he was going to explore all options in the off-season, including retirement, and the prospect of life-after-Ben became a possibility for the first time ever for some. This year, the feelings and indications of Ben returning are much more clear. Ben has confirmed that he will remain the starting quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2018.
While drafting his successor is becoming more of a priority, acquiring the next starter through free agency is not. However, finding a better option to replace Ben if an injury occurs should be.
In this series, BTSC will go position by position and highlight some of the top free agents at each one to determine whether Pittsburgh is a possible place for any of them to land. This week, we’ll take a look at the quarterback position.
Since I don't consider established starters like Drew Brees, Kirk Cousins, Case Keenum and even Josh McCown realistic options for Pittsburgh, they won’t be highlighted here. Neither will Cincy RFA A.J. McCarron. The Steelers aren't going to throw their hat in the ring for a guy seeking starter money or one in exchange for which they’d have to surrender draft picks to a divisional rival. Instead, I’ll look at players that could serve as better backups than Landry Jones. I have serious doubts that Jones could do what Nick Foles did this year in relief. But the fact remains that, if Ben goes down, those games without him don't have to automatically be a lost cause. That’s why a solid backup could be a priority.
Here are the best free agent signal-callers available that might fit the Steelers bill.
1. Sam Bradford-Minnesota Vikings
The first-overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft has had a hard-luck NFL career. He's been besieged with injuries as a Ram, Eagle and Viking, derailing a promising career. In one start last year in Minnesota, the Oklahoma-alum had a completion percentage of 84.4, a QBR of 143.0 and three touchdowns against zero picks. For his career, Bradford is a 62.5% passer with 101 TDs against 57 interceptions. Trouble is, he’s been as fragile as an antique vase. Despite all of that baggage, the 31-year-old might be a solid option as Big Ben's backup and replacement for the guy who started after him in Norman.
2. Teddy Bridgewater-Minnesota Vikings
Another hard-luck guy is Bridgewater. I don't really see him as being much of an option for the Steelers and I envision him staying in the Twin Cities. When healthy enough his first two seasons, Bridgewater was 17-11 as a starter. But he hasn't started a game since 2015 and might be damaged goods at this point. The 25-year-old still has a chance to reclaim his spot as a starter in this league, but a backup stint might be where he needs to start his road back. If the money is right, he could be a steal.
3. Ryan Fitzpatrick-Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Fitzpatrick has a lot of experience as a starter in this league during his 13-year career. The Harvard grad is intelligent and a leader on the field, but his days as a starter seem behind him. The veteran of seven teams has a reputation as an interception machine, but career-wise, he has 173 TD passes against 136 INTs. As a sub for Jameis Winston in three games, Fitzpatrick threw for 1,103 yards, seven scores and three picks. If the 35-year-old wants a shot at a ring, he should seize an opportunity to play in Pittsburgh. Fitz would be a reliable option should Roethlisberger succumb to injury.
4. Geno Smith-New York Giants
Smith was projected to be a solid, dependable passer in the NFL, but the WVU product has had an unfortunate and tumultuous career, including his four years with the Jets and one with the Giants. He's battled injury and inconsistency in the pros, throwing 29 TDs against 36 picks while completing only 57.9% of his passes. The 28-year-old could benefit by playing under Big Ben, but he would come with a lot of worry and uncertainty, and might not even be an upgrade over Jones.
5. Blaine Gabbert- Arizona Cardinals
The 7-year veteran proved to be a capable backup for Arizona last season. The 28-year-old was 5-5 as a starter for the hard-luck Cardinals last year. He threw six for six scores and six to opposing defenders, but he gave the Cards a chance every time out.
Other Notable Free Agent Quarterbacks
Matt Moore-Miami Dolphins
Jay Cutler-Miami Dolphins
Derek Anderson-Carolina Panthers
Drew Stanton-Arizona Cardinals
Tom Savage-Houston Texans
Chad Henne-Jacksonville Jaguars
E.J. Manuel-Oakland Raiders
Mark Sanchez-Chicago Bears
Ryan Mallett-Baltimore Ravens