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
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
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