The 2018 Pittsburgh Steelers have a quarterback quandary. They created it, but that fact simplifies nothing. Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones, Joshua Dobbs and Mason Rudolph give the Steelers a 4 quarterback preseason roster. Each offers assets to the team. But the Steelers can’t keep four quarterbacks on their roster, or can they?
- After all, the Steelers have carried 4 quarterbacks on their roster twice, in 1995 and 1999.
Could they do it again? Should they do it again? Does the Steelers history with four quarterbacks serve as any sort of guide? Let’s find out….
Can the Steelers keep 4 quarterbacks in 2018? Photo Credit: Karl Rosner, Steelers.com
A Youngster Learns about NFL Quarterback Depth Charts…
I’m old enough (barely, mind you) to have an big brother who explained to me the concept of “strings” using Terry Bradshaw as the Steelers first string quarterback, Cliff Stoudt as the 2nd string quarterback and Mark Malone as third string quarterback.
- My brother also told me that NFL teams carried three quarterbacks, but sometimes kept four.
Sometimes, my brother assured me, teams kept four. But my first and only memory of that came in 1989 when the New England Patriots opened and closed season with four quarterbacks, Tony Eason, Steve Grogan, Doug Flutie and Marc Wilson. Each started a game, and the Patriots finished 5-11.
Keeping four quarterbacks was not a sign of strength for the ’89 Patriots, but it isn’t necessarily always the case.
1995 Steelers Quarterback Depth Chart
The Steelers surprised everyone by drafting Kordell Stewart in the 2nd round of the 1995 NFL Draft. With Neil O’Donnell, Mike Tomczak and Jim Miller Steelers looked set at quarterback.
But O’Donnell, in the final year of his contract, talked a good game about staying in Pittsburgh, but Bill Cowher and Tom Donahoe hedged their bets.
- In preseason both Jim Miller and Kordell Stewart played well and remained healthy.
Although roster limits had grown between 1989 and 1995, the salary cap had forever altered NFL roster dynamics. Keeping four quarterbacks cut sharply against conventional wisdom. But Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola resolved the question with simple logic: The 1994 Steelers had played the entire season with Fred Foggie and Charles Davenport on their roster and finished just shy of the Super Bowl.
- Bill Cowher made the right move by carrying 4 quarterbacks.
Each quarterback threw a pass during the season (yes, Jim Miller threw one) and the Kordell Stewart “Slash” phenomenon added an element of dynamism to the offense that carried the Steelers all the way to Super Bowl XXX.
Carry 4 quarterbacks in 1995 was sign of strength for the 1995 Steelers.
1999 Steelers Quarterback Depth Chart
The Steelers faced a very different quarterback depth chart quandary in 1999. Although Kordell Stewart had led the Steelers to the 1997 AFC Championship, in 1998 timidity and tentativeness replace Stewart’s swagger and the signal caller struggled mightily.
Mike Tomczak remained as a backup, former Pitt stand out Pete Gonzalez’s audible ability had impressed Bill Cowher during the 1998 preseason, and Anthony Wright, an undrafted rookie free agent possessed “one of the strongest arms” Bill Cowher had ever seen.
The Steelers carried four quarterbacks in 1999 (yes, yesterday’s Steelers.com article was wrong, don’t believe it? Click here), as Gonzalez saw mop up duty in the opener against Cleveland, Stewart got benched and moved to wide out while Mike Tomczak finished the season as the starter.
They’d been talk of Anthony Wright getting snaps in the meaningless season finale, but that never materialized, (…although Bobby Shaw did flash his Superman jersey after catching a garbage time touchdown.)
In 1999, the 6-10 Steelers revealed their weakness by keeping four quarterbacks.
The 2018 Steelers Quarterback Depth Chart
Ben Roethlisberger and Landry Jones are staying put, barring a ridiculous trade offer for Landry Jones. The Steelers aren’t cutting Mason Rudolph. That leaves Joshua Dobbs as the odd man out.
Ben Roethlisberger in the 2005 AFC Championship Game. Photo Credit: Denver Post
Mike Tomlin is starting him in the preseason finale and Joshua Dobbs has had a strong summer. He works hard and is probably the better option at this point should the Steelers need to play a 3rd quarterback. And Steelers 3rd string quarterbacks have seen a lot of non-mop up action under Mike Tomlin.
- Landry Jones will be a free agent next spring, and the Steelers could gain salary cap relief by with two quarterbacks playing on their first contracts as backups.
The flipside to the argument is that many NFL teams only keep two quarterbacks, not three, and the Steelers need the roster spots at linebacker, tight end, defensive back and perhaps running back.
- What would a fourth string quarterback do in 2018, anyway?
In 1995, Bob Labirola argued for keeping four by suggesting that there must be some sort of “busy work” for an NFL 4th string quarterback. There was of a sort, but “busy work” entailed Kordell Stewart playing wide out in practice.
- In 1999, Bill Cowher conceded that Anthony Wright would make a good free safety in practice.
In a perfect world, the Steelers would find a way to keep Joshua Dobbs in Pittsburgh. Like 1995 and unlike 1999, carrying 4 quaterbacks would signal the strength of the Steelers 2018 roster.
But the Steelers Super Bowl window is closing, but Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert need to keep the 53 men most likely to help land Lombardi Number 7 in Pittsburgh, and that 53rd man is unlikely to be a 4th string quarterback.
So, unless injury intervenes, Joshua Dobbs’ start against Carolina tomorrow night will likely be his last for the Pittsburgh Steelers, however unfortunate that may be.