QUARTERBACKS – (3)** (Free Agent Scorecard: 1 unrestricted – Landry Jones)
There is an undeniable love-to-hate-Landry faction among Steelers fans, but it's actually irrational and it's not at all reflective of how the team perceives him. The Steelers didn't draft Jones in the fourth round in 2013 with the idea they were selecting the eventual successor to Ben Roethlisberger; they drafted Jones because they had grown weary of going with veteran/aged backup quarterbacks who always seemed to sustain an injury whenever they had to play. The turning point for Jones was the summer of 2015, first when Bruce Gradkowski – one of those veteran/aged quarterbacks – wasn't able to participate in the offseason program and then needed surgery before the preseason ended and was placed on injured reserve. Juxtaposed with that was the team's signing of Mike Vick, a move that showed Jones there wasn't exactly 100 percent confidence in his abilities. Fight or flight, and Jones fought. He turned out to be a better option for the Steelers in 2015 than Vick, and in 2016 he started two games – vs. the Patriots, and then vs. the Browns in the regular season finale. His touchdown pass to Landry Jones in overtime beat the Browns, and he wasn't good enough in a loss to the Patriots. After four NFL seasons, Jones is over 60-percent completion percentage for his career, and by throwing four touchdown passes and two interceptions in 2016 he now is at a plus-number in that ratio (7-6). With a chance to test free agency, Jones has to decide if he wants to go to a team where he could compete for a starting spot, or whether he believes his better path to a long NFL career is by honing his craft as a backup.
For the love-to-hate-Landry faction, this is the guy. The savior. The one on whom they're pinning their hopes. Claimed off waivers on Aug. 31, Mettenberger was insurance against the Steelers having to re-do 2015 at the quarterback position, where a cluster of injuries had them starting three different guys. Mettenberger came to Pittsburgh with 10 NFL starts, and in those games he completed 181-for-304 (59.4 percent) for 2,025 yards, with 10 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, and a rating of 75.3. His team's record in those games was 0-10. Because he wasn't claimed by the Steelers until the final day in August, Mettenberger didn't get any time with the team at training camp or during the four preseason games, because the preseason ended the next night in Carolina against the Panthers. Once OTAs start, then even more so at Saint Vincent College, will be when the Steelers get their first real look at Mettenberger trying to do the things they want their quarterbacks to do. The Steelers figure to bring four quarterbacks to Latrobe, and Coach Mike Tomlin is going to give Ben Roethlisberger the occasional day off. That will provide Mettenberger a chance to compete for a roster spot, for the backup job – with Jones provided he re-signs, or with whomever the team might bring to camp if Jones doesn't – but he is not an heir apparent either.
He is their guy. In a professional football sense, they are married – for better or worse, in sickness and in health, until retirement do they part. But the "when" issue with regards to that retirement came to the forefront when Roethlisberger himself introduced it during his regular weekly segment on a Pittsburgh sports talk radio show. On Jan. 31, Steelers President Art Rooney II was asked about Roethlisberger's plans. "I talked to Ben. We had a good conversation," Rooney said. "He's, I think, at that stage of his career that those are thoughts I think you have. Personally, I expect that he will be back. But that's going to have to be his decision." The decision to retire figures to come sooner rather than later for any professional athlete set to turn 35 in March, but he has three seasons left on his current contract and would be owed $46 million in salary and roster bonuses over that time, when he would be 37-going-on-38 years old. Barring injury and based on his current level of play, that could be doable, but it is going to have to be Roethlisberger's decision.