Steelers sign QB Bruce Gradkowski to contract

Bruce Gradkowski is coming home.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and the free agent quarterback have

agreed to a three-year deal that will likely make Gradkowski the

primary backup behind starter Ben Roethlisberger.

The 30-year-old Gradkowski is 6-14 in his career as a starter

with Oakland, Cleveland and Tampa Bay. He spent the 2011-12 seasons

with the Cincinnati Bengals, appearing in five games. Gradkowski

has completed 375 of 709 passes for 4,057 yards with 21 touchdowns

and 24 interceptions in 37 career games.

”I’m thrilled to be back home,” Gradkowski said. ”I always

thought at some point (I’d return) … I couldn’t be happier.”

The arrival of Gradkowski, a Pittsburgh native, means the

Steelers will almost certainly not attempt to re-sign longtime

backup quarterback Byron Leftwich, who has struggled to remain

healthy in recent years.

”I’m looking forward to working with Ben,” Gradkowski said.

”He’s a competitor and I’m a competitor and I can’t wait to do

what I can to help this team win.”

Leftwich, a free agent, has dealt with a series of injuries in

his second stint with Pittsburgh. He made one start in 2012 but

fractured his ribs in the first quarter of a loss to the Baltimore

Ravens and was made inactive for Pittsburgh’s regular season finale

against Cleveland.

The Steelers also released oft-injured offensive lineman Willie

Colon, a move that will save them money against the salary cap. The

29-year-old played in just 13 of a possible 48 games the past three

years due to a variety of health issues.

Colon missed all of 2010 with a torn Achilles but signed a

five-year, $29-million contract in July 2011. He played just one

game that season after tearing the triceps in his right arm in the

season opener against Baltimore.

Colon returned in 2012 and moved from right tackle to left

guard, where made 12 starts before sustaining a knee injury that

forced him to end the year on injured reserve for the third

straight season.

Colon wasn’t the only player who parted ways with the Steelers

on Wednesday. Running back Rashard Mendenhall left Pittsburgh for

Arizona after five roller coaster seasons. Mendenhall ran for 3,549

yards and 29 touchdowns for the Steelers but his play was sometimes

overshadowed by off-the-field distractions – including

controversial comments about the death of Osama bin Laden.

Any chance of Mendenhall re-signing with the Steelers likely

ended late in the season when he failed to show up for a game

against the San Diego Chargers after he learned he would be made

inactive. He did suit up for the final game of the season but by

then he’d been dropped to third on the depth chart.

The player exits could continue for Pittsburgh. Coveted

cornerback Keenan Lewis visited the New Orleans Saints Wednesday.

Lewis led the AFC with 23 passes defensed in 2012.

The Steelers, coming off a disappointing 8-8 season, have

already lost four starters from last season – Colon, Mendenhall,

wide receiver Mike Wallace and linebacker James Harrison – to free

agency or in a cost-cutting move.

Pittsburgh, who has already re-signed offensive lineman Ramon

Foster, wide receiver Plaxico Burress and linebacker Larry Foote,

also agreed to terms with long snapper Greg Warren late