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The Pittsburgh Steelers and backup Quarterbacks, what can be done?

The Steelers have had some trouble when Big Ben hasn't been able to hit the field - their backup QBs have either been injured, or ineffective. There is a backup QB problem in Pittsburgh, but what can be done?

Landry Jones, the answer to Pittsburgh's QB predicament?
Landry Jones, the answer to Pittsburgh's QB predicament?
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Ben Roethlisberger has years left in his career, but the 2015 season has shown that the Pittsburgh offence relies heavily on his abilities. For example, in Week 7 Landry Jones started on the road in Arrowhead Stadium, and put up a poor performance against the Chiefs. Let's be honest, without Big Ben, the Steelers are not a playoff team.

The current depth chart at QB is Roethlisberger, Bruce Gradkowski, Mike Vick, Landry Jones and recently signed Dustin Vaughan. Gradkowski didn't play this season due to an injury forcing him on injured reserve, Vick couldn't connect with a 50-percent completion rate, and Landry Jones' inexperience showed with several inconsistent performances. New blood is needed, and room needs to be made. The draft is what first comes to mind, with prospects like Carson Wentz causing a stir, but with so much competition for QBs, this could prove difficult. Free agency holds promise, but could prove difficult with players not offering much of a long term solution. Finally, the teams own roster could provide us with some kind of solution, but this remains to be seen.

Pittsburgh's first pick of the draft is not ideal for drafting a quarterback that a team can plug in and play. Being the 25th overall means that any QB worth drafting so early is likely to be gone. There are five teams before the Steelers that have far more severe QB problems: Cleveland (2nd), Dallas (4th), San Francisco (7th), Philadelphia (13th) and Houston (22nd). This means that even if QB was a drafting priority for Pittsburgh (heads up, that goes to cornerbacks and the secondary), there would be little left for Pittsburgh to pick unless it wanted to spend time developing that player over a season or two as a third-string QB. That means that there is little chance that notable QBs (Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Paxton Lynch, Connor Cook or Christian Hackenberg) will be wearing black and gold anytime soon. This does not mean that Pittsburgh will not draft a QB at all.

Pittsburgh has already met with USC quarterback Cody Kessler, and in fact was the first prospect the Steelers have shown interest in in approach to the draft. This means that drafting a QB is in the interest of Pittsburgh, but as a long term solution. And who's to say that won't work? Antonio Brown and Tom Brady were both drafted in the 6th round. Kessler is clearly where Pittsburgh is looking for the future at QB, but this does not solve the issue now.

Looking to a more long term solution, most people would turn to free agency. And why not? There are plenty of QBs that could fill Pittsburgh's hole. Brock Osweiler is the first that comes to mind. After such quality showings for Denver when Peyton Manning was out injured, Osweiler has proven he is a good player for the future. This is precisely why the Steelers won't have him on their roster. Osweiler's stock is too high, and with a combination of Pittsburgh's spending going towards linemen (both O-line and D-line) and again the secondary. Also, in terms of Osweiler, other teams who need a QB will be able to snap him up (he's likely to stay at Denver), which means he will not be playing at home in Heinz field come September.

The price problem is also at play with a range of other QBs, Sam Bradford, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Matt Schaub for example. Matt Cassel is an option however, his 58.3 completion percentage showing him worse than he is, with 68.4 against Carolina. Despite this, Cassel is the same age as Roethlisberger (33) and so would only provide a backup position whilst a younger third or even fourth string QB is trained. If Pittsburgh wants to solve the problem then TJ Yates may provide the answer. Yates' statistics are not great, it is clear that he is not starting QB material. A completion percentage of only 49.1 this season shows that; however, his passer rating is 80.3 on the season, not a bad place to start if a backup QB is needed. Picking up TJ Yates would mean dropping some players however, Pittsburgh is already at five, so what is to happen with the current QB roster?

The current QB roster has two players that are at the end of their contracts - Gradkowski and Vick. Gradkowski has not played a game this season, and has only barely played at all for Pittsburgh. A this point, we know more about how Landry Jones plays on game day in the regular with the Steelers than we do Gradkowski. This is an issue, and as Jones has shown, he is good enough to take Gradkowski's place. Vick has a different issue at play. For starters, he was only meant to be a short term fix. The Steelers were not expecting to have Vick start a majority of the season. They were expecting him to play while Big Ben recovered, and then that would be it. Mike Vick is not going to get an extension - he is simply not needed. Jones on the other hand seems to be the right choice to keep. He has proven he can play the game well, and has the ability to improve, with his games against the Chiefs, Raiders and Browns all getting a higher completion rate than the last. Jones will get better and is the right choice for backup QB in the future. Right now, there is still room to improve. Dustin Vaughan on the other hand, remains a mystery. There is no saying if he will be good, and no saying if he will be bad. He is likely a training camp arm, and the team will take a wait-and-see approach to his development.

It is likely that backup quarterback is going to be a problem again for Pittsburgh in 2016 and possibly beyond. If Roethlisberger, and all his backups, get injured again, the situation will likely be the same as this. What should happen is clear: release Gradkowski and Vick (they're too old and inconsistent), keep Landry Jones, keep Vaughan on the practice squad just in case, draft a QB (but only after more major issues of the secondary and linemen have been solved) and find a suitable short term fix in free agency (TJ Yates being my choice here). This, if done wrong could result in a similar situation as this season. If done right, the long term success of Pittsburgh's offense could be achieved.