The suggestion of bringing back former Steelers is a hot topic around the Internet. While some of the suggestions range from logical (Will Allen) others are purely skeptical (LaMarr Woodley) but all are certainly plausible given the team's recent history of bringing back former players (such William Gay, Will Allen, Harrison, Antwaan Randle El, Plaxico Burress, and most recently, David Johnson.)
An incident which occurred in Friday's preseason game could make one of the most hypothetical suggestions a reality: the return of Michael Vick.
Steelers QB Bruce Gradkowski scheduled for MRI Saturday. May have serious left hamstring pull after it popped— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) August 13, 2016
Steelers QB Bruce Gradkowski has sizable hamstring tear, per source. Could be out a while. Landry Jones and... https://t.co/LsuNs53XC1— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) August 15, 2016
Bruce Gradkowski went 3-for-3 in Friday's preseason game against the Detroit Lions, before exiting the game with a reported hamstring injury. The 33-year-old quarterback signed a one-season deal with the Steelers this offseason, shortly after the team passed on taking a quarterback in this year's NFL Draft.
This most recent injury derails the quarterback's comeback from being placed on injured reserve for all of last season. It was nearly one year ago that a shoulder injury sidelined Gradkowski, and opened the door for the unthinkable: Michael Vick in a Steelers jersey.
Vick joined the team in time for week 3 of the preseason (the Steelers 4th preseason game, due to Pittsburgh playing in an additional game, the Hall of Fame game.) Due to the timing and circumstances of his signing last year, Vick joined the team days following the end of training camp, and with a couple of preseason games to workout with the team.
The lack of camp time would come back to haunt the Steelers, when Ben Roethlisberger was injured in the Steelers third regular season game. Vick entered the game, and struggled to move the first team offense. He would be further exposed in a terrible situation, where Vick had a short week of practically no practice, to prepare to play the Baltimore Ravens 4 days later on Thursday Night Football. Despite the lack of prepration, Vick may have lead the Steelers to a win, if not for two missed field goals. (Rather, Pittsburgh lost a heartbreaker in overtime, which included two sandlot plays drawn up on the sidelines, since the team couldn't trust attempting a game-winning field goal on two fourth down attempts.)
Vick, would vindicate the loss in the next game against the Chargers, completing a long pass to Markus Wheaton and driving to team to a last-second goal line touchdown by Le'Veon Bell. Following that game, Vick would again struggle against the Arizona Cardinals, before leaving that game with an injury, and making way for the Steelers 4th QB option of the 2015 season, Landry Jones.
Vick would not see the field again in 2015.
While Vick didn't appear effective at times during his tenure, we had suggested on a recent podcast that the quarterback's issues stemmed from a lack of time to learn the playbook. Essentially Vick was tossed into the fire with about 6 weeks to learn the Steelers offense, before going under center. Additionally, he only attempted 10 total passes in his two preseason appearances; hardly time to prep to be a full-time replacement for Big Ben.
When compared with similar scenarios, such as Dallas with Matt Cassell, I'd feel fortunate that Vick was resigned to being a game manager and not attempting to do anything too crazy. We estimate that Vick had maybe 25% of the playbook at his disposal when playing against the Rams and Ravens, and not much more than that a week later against the Cardinals.
Those limitations could've been problematic with Vick having trouble connecting with receivers Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant as well, something Landry Jones had a bit more success in doing:
- Vick to AB: 9 for 19 – 85 yards, 0 TD, 4 first downs
- Landry Jones to AB: 12 for 17 – 232 yards, 0 TD, 8 1st downs
- Vick to Bryant: 2/3 8 yds, 0 TD, 0 1st downs
- Landry Jones to Bryant: 8/16 179 yds 3 TD, 7 1st downs
Landry Jones, who was (and for some still is) not considered a real alternative under center, had a bit more success with those receivers, as well as winning the Cardinals game in relief of Vick (and holding off the Raiders in place of Big Ben.) That should be expected of a quarterback who has been in the Steelers system for multiple years, and it was evident when Landry started calling audibles and protection changes, that he was more capable of handling the offense than the ill-prepared Vick.
Again, this is not entirely Vick's fault, due to lack of time to learn Todd Haley's playbook: something that was a giant criticism of Roethlisberger's chemistry with Haley, during the offensive coordinator's first year in Pittsburgh. That's why I feel a year later, having been exposed to the Steelers system, Vick could be the best option to replace Gradkowski and provide veteran leadership and depth at the quarterback position.
Currently, behind Ben, are Jones, and rookie Dustin Vaughan.
Vaughan is the latest sacrificial lamb in a yearly tradition of signing quarterbacks who are eligible to participate in rookie minicamp. (After all, who else is going to throw rookies the ball?) I firmly believe, based on previous years, that Vaughan wouldn't have gotten into Friday's preseason game against the Lions, had it not been for Gradkowski getting hurt.
Therefore, Vaughan is not a real option to remain as the team's potential third quarterback, given the way things have gone with Pittsburgh reaching deep into it's relievers in past seasons. On the other hand, Vick has made it clear that he feels he has another season in the NFL left in him, training this offseason in preparation for a team to pick up the phone, and make the emergency call to add a veteran QB to their depth chart.
"At this point in my career I would love to play for a contender. If anything, you've just got to be willing to make a contribution. In the NFL, that's what it's all about."
Past history dictates a "never say never" business approach to building the 53-man roster. When viewing the options available to the Pittsburgh at this time, adding a veteran with experience in Haley's system may be the wisest choice for the Steelers.