The backup quarterback position was called upon quite a few times when Ben Roethlisberger went down with numerous injuries during the 2015 season. In the preseason, veteran quarterback Bruce Gradkowski went down with a dislocated finger, which ultimately led the Pittsburgh Steelers to sign Michael Vick. When Gradkowski was placed on injured reserve, fans wondered if Vick could fill the backup quarterback position. He was placed into action in a week 4 matchup against the Baltimore Ravens where he struggled, missing crucial throws in the 4th quarter and overtime. The following week against the San Diego Chargers he lead a game-winning touchdown drive capped off by Le'Veon Bell's last second run which won the game.
As we head into the 2016-2017 NFL season, fans have seen Vick's performance, and how he struggled in key situations, but somehow found a way to win. If it wasn't for the magical performance of Landry Jones against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 6, Pittsburgh would have never made it to the playoffs. Jones filled in for Vick who went down with a hamstring injury and had to sit out the remainder of the game. Jones' performance was just utterly phenomenal going 8/12, 168 yards, and throwing two touchdowns. That is a passer rating of 149.3. The following week he struggled against a top Kansas City Chiefs defense. He went 16/29, 209 yards, throwing one touchdown along with two interceptions. That is a passer rating of 60.8.
Consistency at the backup quarterback position is somewhat rare. If you are a consistent backup quarterback then you could have what it takes to be starting material. Bruce Gradkowski has proven that he is a great backup quarterback. He has been named the starter for several teams during his ten year NFL career, but never provided consistency as the starter. When it comes to naming a backup quarterback you have to look at how they perform under pressure. Landry Jones came into the wild-card matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals and threw a potential game-ending interception, but thankfully the very next play Ryan Shazier stripped Jeremy Hill, which provided another chance to win the football game. If you remember back in the wild-card matchup last year against the Baltimore Ravens, Gradkowski had to relieve Roethlisberger after he went down with what seemed to be a concussion. When under extreme pressure and in a crucial wild-card matchup, Gradkowski performed well going 2/3 for 22-yards converting a 4th down conversion and setting up the Steelers in prime position to score. On the very next play Roethlisberger came back out and threw an interception in the back of the end zone.
There are no current free agent quarterbacks that the Steelers should sign for the upcoming NFL season. The list is just not good enough for someone to come in and be the number two quarterback on the roster. Gradkowski, when he is healthy, has shown a comfortable vibe while under center. He has been with Pittsburgh since 2013 and is very familiar with Todd Haley's offensive scheme. Landry Jones is going into his final year of his rookie contract and while he has provided somewhat solid performances, his future is slim after the 2016 NFL season. Michael Vick is the oldest quarterback on the roster, at age 35, and has shown that winning football games is possible, but he was eventually out performed by Landry Jones, which should tell you something about his future.
While the backup quarterback position currently is in disarray, I do expect Pittsburgh to sign Gradkowski to a minimum 1-year veteran contract. This would be in the organization's best interest, as Gradkowski has proven to be a solid backup to Roethlisberger when he is healthy. Michael Vick is an unrestricted free agent and probably will not get re-signed, and this leaves third-year quarterback Landry Jones, who is at best a third-string quarterback in the NFL.
Needless to say, Gradkowski for at least one more year would be the smartest decision the Steelers could make, from a football and financial standpoint.