I’m not exactly sure where the notion came from, but there have been discussions among Steelers fans about the team keeping all four of their quarterbacks currently on their preseason 91-man roster. Frankly, the idea is absurd when you take the time to think it through rationally. Regardless of how good a player is, if they are buried so deep on the depth chart where they would be more likely to run the water onto the field during a timeout than to actually be wearing a helmet on game day, the player would be better off earning a higher spot on another squad. If you happen to be someone on the fence about the possibility, here are five reasons to talk you out of it before you come off as crazy to your Steelers buddies.
Getting Practice Reps
During a regular week of preparation for an NFL game, there are limited opportunities for practice. During the 2018 season, Mason Rudolph rarely saw practice reps outside of when Ben Roethlisberger was getting a day off. Even when Ben was resting, Joshua Dobbs was taking advantage of all the reps he could get. Other than the bye week, Rudolph was mainly tasked to run the scout team offense. With hardly any work available for the third string quarterback, why would the Steelers keep a fourth? Wouldn’t the practice squad spot be much better served with someone who could actually help during practice?
Taking up a Roster Spot
The Steelers are able to keep up to 64 players to be a part of their team in 2019. Not counting players on the Injured Reserve or Physically Unable to Perform lists, the Steelers have their 53-man roster, 10 practice squad players, and one practice squad international exemption for Christian Scotland-Williamson if they chose to keep him. As coveted as roster spots are, keeping Scotland-Williamson is a no-brainer. What a lot of fans may not realize is an NFL practice squad is more than just a place to attempt to hide away talent. The players on the squad are an integral part in helping the team prepare for their upcoming opponent. If you don’t believe me, look at the positions kept on the practice squad in years past. When matched up with the active roster, it is clear the Steelers need a certain number of players at given positions in order to get the proper work at practice.
Benefit to the 2019 Team
If the Steelers keep a player who would only see the field if three other players were injured, is that player really helping them win in 2019? What role would they serve? The only reason to keep that many quarterbacks would be if the Steelers felt their fourth guy would be their number one or number two quarterback the next season. If they really felt that way, why not make that player the number three quarterback this season? If they feel the same way about the number three quarterback, then why not make them the number two quarterback? They can’t believe all four players could be the starter or backup in 2020. I understand Ben Roethlisberger is a franchise quarterback who is closing in on the end of his career. Even if the Steelers think it could be Ben’s last year, they need to decide who could be their starter and backup without Ben the following year and those two players should make the team. All this discussion still doesn't mean anything to help the Steelers win this year.
In order for a player to be signed to the practice squad, they must first be released and pass through waivers. At that time, any team can claim the player and place them on their 53-man roster. The only way a team can keep a player safe is by keeping them on the active roster or placing them on IR. If the Steelers think a quarterback is so talented they wish to keep him, don’t you think at least one other team might want the player as well? If the player does clear waivers, are they really worth keeping on the practice squad? Even if the Steelers did, the second any quarterback gets injured throughout the league, there is a good chance their quarterback is going to get poached. Any player on an NFL practice squad may be signed by any other team to their active roster. So the Steelers could be wasting a practice squad position for a player who is more likely to help someone else later in the season. Let’s say the Steelers don’t sign their fourth quarterback to the practice squad and they end up on a different one. If the Steelers have an injury and need a quarterback, thy could always sign them back from wherever they are, either on the street or another team’s practice squad.
Doing Right by the Player
If a player is the fourth quarterback on the roster, does it even benefit them to stay on the team? If they are of little help to the franchise as outlined above, keeping a player around who isn’t helping now along with not having a plan to utilize them in the future does not help the player’s development. The only upside for the player is the salary. But could they find a better situation to increase their salary both now and in future seasons? If the Steelers aren’t going to have a plan for a player, they would much rather wish them the best of luck and give them the opportunity to catch on somewhere else.
If you are one of the Steelers fans holding out hope that they will keep one of their quarterbacks on the practice squad, I hope this was a bit of a wake-up call. I can’t remember the last time any NFL team kept four quarterbacks aside from a situation with multiple questionable injures at the position. While there may be some franchises who put quarterbacks on the practice squad, those teams are ones who only keep two on the active roster. Since the Steelers are one of the teams which insist on keeping three quarterbacks, they’ve pretty much made the statement that the practice squad is for positions other than quarterback.