Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

20 Apr 2010

Steelers Acquire Byron Leftwich

Welcome to the backup plan. With a Ben Roethlisberger suspension on the way, the Steelers have sent a seventh-round pick to Tampa Bay for quarterback Byron Leftwich.

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 20 Apr 2010

48 comments, Last at 21 Apr 2010, 4:34pm by Martinez

Comments

1
by Raiderjoe :: Tue, 04/20/2010 - 5:39pm

what was wrong qith dennis dixon (6-3, 195, oregon)? lokkked okay vs ravebs sundsay night footb all game in 2009 gam. 3rd year coming up. if think b leftwixch answer theb team stupid. leftwich alreday in pitt. dont they knw he's crap? what anout batch? did he retire? not healthy enough anymore aFTER INJUJRY?

2
by Raiderjoe :: Tue, 04/20/2010 - 5:44pm

really csant understand this move. seem like team giving up on dixon alreday. and even if did give up on dizon, why waster dradt pick on leftwoch? get some other guy like k clemens, j campbell or t jackson or some others

3
by Key19 :: Tue, 04/20/2010 - 5:49pm

Wasn't Byron on the Steelers just two years ago? And didn't they cut him/not re-sign him?

7
by BucNasty :: Tue, 04/20/2010 - 5:58pm

He was a free agent. If I remember it right, they wanted to retain him but he chose to leave for the chance at a starting gig.

4
by loneweasel (not verified) :: Tue, 04/20/2010 - 5:50pm

Relax RJ, this move just means that the Steelers will carry three QB's during Ben's suspension.

6
by Raiderjoe :: Tue, 04/20/2010 - 5:52pm

yes but if have no plans for lefwch to staetr then dumb move trading pick for 3rd or 4th strijng qb

39
by Anonymous (not verified) (not verified) :: Wed, 04/21/2010 - 11:14am

7th round picks USUALLY don't have that much value anyway...

5
by Raiderjoe :: Tue, 04/20/2010 - 5:51pm

yes, he wasa there already. that was what had in post 1 there

8
by Justin Zeth :: Tue, 04/20/2010 - 6:16pm

The plan is most likely for Leftwich to start the four games Roethlisberger will miss, probably with Batch backing him up and Dixon third string. Leftwich will probably be either traded or released after week 4, depending on how well he plays.

Dennis Dixon isn't worth worrying about, and the value of a seventh round pick is practically zero.

It would make more sense when Roethlisberger returns, in my opinion, to release Batch and keep Leftwich as the backup, but Batch has been pretty loyal to the Steelers for years now and so I guess they feel pretty loyal to him in return. That and the whole 'he knows our system so very well' angle.

9
by Theo :: Tue, 04/20/2010 - 6:23pm

Mike knows who will be the starting if/when Ben is suspended. Batch, Dixon or Leftwich...
Camp will determine who.

But yeah, it's a pretty half-understandable move because they had Leftwich as a backup just one year ago so he knows the offense and players. Giving up a 7th for it seems strange. Aren't there better FA's or rookies to try out if all they do is just compete for the 4-game job/backup, as long as Ben is away?

10
by Justin Zeth :: Tue, 04/20/2010 - 6:48pm

Leftwich is much better than Batch or Dixon. The Steelers would prefer not to be 0-4 or 1-3 when Roethlisberger returns, so acquiring a better quarterback makes perfect sense. If Leftwich can stay healthy for a month behind that o-line (OK, pretty unlikely), the Steelers will likely recoup their draft pick shipping him off elsewhere.

40
by Anonymous (not verified) (not verified) :: Wed, 04/21/2010 - 11:16am

You mean 0-6, 1-5 or 2-4, the way it sounds like it could be now, with talk being 4-6 games...

41
by Justin Zeth :: Wed, 04/21/2010 - 11:41am

My understanding is it's going to be one of Goodell's patented conditional suspensions, where after four games, if Roethlisberger goes in and bows down face to the ground before a golden graven image of Our Lord and Savior Roger, then Our Lord and Savior Roger will show leniency and allow him to return; but if Roethlisberger messes up any part of the worship ceremony, he will have to sit out two more games.

It will most likely be four.

47
by Ender (not verified) :: Wed, 04/21/2010 - 4:04pm

I have an altar to our Lord and Savior Roger Staubach in my living room.

11
by commissionerleaf :: Tue, 04/20/2010 - 6:52pm

Nice. The Steelers acquire what might be the single worst quarterback in football for their offense, which depends on having the quarterback avoid sacks behind a useless offensive line. Leftwich is immobile and has the slowest release in the NFL.

However, he's pretty accurate and has a strong arm. Maybe if he can get some protection he wins a starting gig away from Ben.

12
by chemical burn :: Tue, 04/20/2010 - 7:17pm

Yeah, this seems like a terrible match of team and QB. Maybe they want fans to be so miserable that they will be all primed to love and forgive Roethlisberger... I really can't imagine starting Leftwich - he's toast...

19
by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Tue, 04/20/2010 - 9:05pm

Wow, rhetoric. Leftwich is clearly about replacement level (although last year for Tampa he was above-average), but that's way above worst quarterback in the NFL. I mean, JaMarcus Russell. Or even Jake Delhomme. Now that's a case for front office myopia.

21
by Justin Zeth :: Tue, 04/20/2010 - 9:38pm

It might have been poorly phrased, but he called Leftwich the worst quarterback in the NFL for the Steelers, because Leftwich takes a while to throw and their o-line is terrible. I disagree with that assertion, too; David Carr comes to mind.

Hyperbole, but not as crazy as calling him the worst quarterback in the league, certainly. I'm the last guy left on the Leftwich Bandwagon, I suppose, but I still think he could reasonably start for eight or ten teams if he could stay on the field. For those first four games, the Steelers are one of them.

22
by t.d. :: Tue, 04/20/2010 - 10:22pm

He was better with the Steelers than Roethlisberger in 2008 (regular season, at least), and that was the same offense as this

/that was Roethlisberger's worst season

23
by Justin Zeth :: Tue, 04/20/2010 - 10:29pm

2006 was Roethlisberger's worst season.

And Leftwich performed well in relief because he was facing teams that had spent all week preparing to chase Roethlisberger around. It will be much different when he's facing defenses that have been preparing for him all week.

25
by tuluse :: Wed, 04/21/2010 - 2:08am

It will be much different when he's facing defenses that have been preparing for him all week.

With what film? What I've generally heard is that it takes 4-5 games of film to get a QBs tendencies down so a defense can exploit them. They'll have film of Leftwich playing with Tampa, film of Big Ben, and film of 36 attempts over 5 games of Leftwich with the Steelers, from 2008.

By the time defenses are truly prepared for Leftwich, Big Ben's suspension should be over.

26
by Justin Zeth :: Wed, 04/21/2010 - 2:26am

Leftwich is the same guy he's been since he entered the league. Big, slow, doesn't move, strong arm, long windup. That's plenty enough information to gameplan with.

When you get that guy unexpectedly after you spent the whole week getting your defense ready for the big, freakishly strong, hard as hell to bring down guy who moves around and outside the pocket for upwards of ten seconds waiting for an open receiver... you're not ready for the guy who doesn't move at all, and Leftwich is skilled enough to take advantage.

27
by tuluse :: Wed, 04/21/2010 - 3:18am

I think you are seriously underestimating scheme and supporting cast.

All the information you gave basically only helps the D-line. What kind of routes will he be throwing on 1st and 10? Who is his favorite receiver? Who is going to on 3rd down? How often will the Steelers use playaction or call screens? There are about 100 more questions that there will be no answers to until week 4.

30
by DeltaWhiskey :: Wed, 04/21/2010 - 6:23am

How is it a disadvantage to have to "adjust" to the "Big, slow, doesn't move, strong arm, long windup" QB so difficult after having gameplanded for " freakishly strong, hard as hell to bring down guy who moves around and outside the pocket for upwards of ten seconds waiting for an open receive" QB?

I can certainly see the reverse scenario being true, but the former is somewhat lost on me.

32
by Justin Zeth :: Wed, 04/21/2010 - 8:26am

Because you're going to spend all week preaching the virtues of containment to your front seven, and you're going to gameplan around keeping Roethlisberger in the pocket if at all possible--steps that are unnecessary and unproductive when you find yourself facing Leftwich.

I don't know; I could be wrong, and I'm probably not explaining it well, but it makes sense to me. Backups that are less talented than the starter coming into games and then performing better than you'd expect is a scenario that seems to happen pretty often in my (limited, anecdotal) experience; this is my best crack at logic as to why.

34
by DeltaWhiskey :: Wed, 04/21/2010 - 9:04am

My thoughts in commenting are in general I agree with how you gameplan for Roethlisberger, but I assume typical gameplans are more for someone w/ Leftwich's style; therefore, when you have to face Leftwich, you simply revert to older learning.

48
by Martinez (not verified) :: Wed, 04/21/2010 - 4:34pm

If you can't figure out the game plan against Byron Leftwich, you need to find a new job.

43
by commissionerleaf :: Wed, 04/21/2010 - 12:16pm

That was indeed what I was saying. The Steelers weakest position right now (well, in '08-'09, they have a lot more weaknesses now) is the offensive line. Roethlisberger is a merely decent quarterback, but he's a great fit for the Steelers who have lots of receiving talent (oops, HAD), but poor pass blocking.

Byron Leftwich is a decent quarterback who is absolutely dependent on having a strong pass blocking offensive line in front of him. He has a good arm and good accuracy but poor mechanics and a long, long windup that makes him easy to sack or hit while throwing.

There are teams (New England, New Orleans and San Diego come to mind) with good pass blocking offensive lines where Leftwich might even be a better quarterback than Roethlisberger. Pittsburgh is like Leftwich's worst nightmare. He's set up to fail.

I like Leftwich, I think Jacksonville did both itself and him a poor turn by letting him go and promoting Garrard. But Pittsburgh is a bad situation for a passer with his skill set.

13
by Dice :: Tue, 04/20/2010 - 7:44pm

Didn't he play OK for the Steelers when he came in for Ben? I'd probably take my chances with Batch over Dixon or Leftwich, but I'd like to see Dixon get a legit shot. He played alright against the Ravens. Still, can't fault the move; a seventh is fine.

14
by Justin Zeth :: Tue, 04/20/2010 - 8:04pm

Dixon played terribly against the Ravens by any objective measure. People just say 'he played OK!' because he was a rookie and he really only had one job--don't throw interceptions--that he did up until he threw the game away in overtime.

Dixon is a former 5th round pick with some athleticism. There's nothing to recommend a team that has championship aspirations sending him out to start four games if they can help it.

Leftwich played excellently in relief of Roethlisberger, but it was only one game, it was against the Redskins, and the Redskins had spent all week preparing to chase Roethlisberger around. I disagree with the notion that Leftwich is terrible for the Steelers and the nation that he's terrible in general; but Leftwich is about as different from Roethlisberger as you can imagine, and things will be different when the other team has had all week to gameplan for him.

All of that said, he's a mild-to-moderate upgrade over Charlie Batch, who is better than Dennis Dixon. He's the best the Steelers could do without giving up anything, they can painlessly dump him once Roethlisberger's back, and so acquiring him was a smart move. Leftwich might win them one game that Batch/Dixon wouldn't have.

15
by chemical burn :: Tue, 04/20/2010 - 8:11pm

Do the Steelers have championship aspirations this year? I know they won it all recently, but they have declined at an amazing pace - this year they are a mess and something like 6-10 seems not unlikely...

16
by Justin Zeth :: Tue, 04/20/2010 - 8:19pm

I don't think they're a championship-quality team, but they certainly do. They view themselves as a playoff team at the very least. This isn't a situation where they're the Chiefs and they're going to go 5-11 anyway, so it's fine to play the raw young guy, get him some experience and shoot for high draft position.

I would expect them, if Roethlisberger plays 12 games, to end up around 7-9, 8-8. If he misses the whole season--say he falls off the wagon or blows a knee or something--they would be a long shot to win 6 games.

But an 8-8 team can easily catch some breaks and go 10-6 or 11-5, so if you're even at that level, it's tough to give away a win or two by tossing Dixon out there to develop him. Especially since Dennis Dixon is in no way the quarterback of the future anyway.

29
by Jerry :: Wed, 04/21/2010 - 4:49am

I'm sure they feel like enough of their championship teams are still around that it's a reasonable aspiration. As Mike Tanier said in the Almanac, they'll have their usual "puncher's chance" of winning.

17
by DM (not verified) :: Tue, 04/20/2010 - 8:33pm

If Leftwich is an upgrade over both backups, why would they cut him once Roethlisberger returns? That doesn't make sense.

18
by Justin Zeth :: Tue, 04/20/2010 - 8:44pm

Loyalty to Batch. Cutting Batch makes the most sense, obviously.

20
by Pat (filler) (not verified) :: Tue, 04/20/2010 - 9:08pm

Not necessarily. There's a difference between the value of a backup QB who's not expected to play and a backup QB who is expected to play. If Batch is extremely well versed in the system (he is) then it may be more valuable to them to have him around to run the second-team offense in practice than the marginal upgrade if Roethlisberger was to go down.

The Eagles kept Koy Detmer around for a long time for this reason (plus he was probably the best holder in the history of the NFL).

24
by Nathan :: Tue, 04/20/2010 - 11:00pm

Wow, you're real down on Dixon. I watched that game objectively, not as a Steelers fan, and I thought he played pretty well, although I do think a lot of it was a product of him being athletic and an unknown quantity. Yeah he lost the game on a pick, but he led them to OT and was playing against the Ravens D in his first game. Ask Kevin Kolb what that's like.

We've all seen Leftwich for 7 years now and you know what you're getting. Average to slightly above average and the wrong style of QB for what has worked for Pittsburgh in the last five years. Dixon is mobile, at least something like Roethlisberger (but we don't know yet if he has the ability to extend plays, only run). I say play the kid a couple games and see what you've got. Like you say, Leftwich is a mild upgrade at best and who knows. How tough are the first two games on Pit's schedule?

All that being said, the Ravens game is all I've seen of Dixon and if you're a Pittsburgh fan I'm sure you saw him in the preseason and have heard the reports from camp, etc.

28
by Jerry :: Wed, 04/21/2010 - 4:41am

Much more to the point, the Steeler organization has experience with everyone involved here. If they feel more comfortable with Leftwich than Dixon, their past record leads me to believe that they know what they're doing here.

44
by oi! (not verified) :: Wed, 04/21/2010 - 12:49pm

Charlie Batch is 35 years old, coming off a wrist injury that ended his season last year. Dennis Dixon is a third-year player with a total of 27 pass attempts in his NFL (regular-season) career. Ben is not going to play until at least week 5. Leftwich is a nearly free pickup, with familiarity with the offense.

Given the above, I doubt that the Steelers have any certainty as to who will start at QB for them until Ben's return. Batch is probably the first choice, assuming that his wrist is up to it. But they'd probably prefer that Dixon grab the job, since he's the backup QB of the future. Again - Batch is 35, so his career is nearing an end...

31
by DeltaWhiskey :: Wed, 04/21/2010 - 8:18am

Brian Burke reviews the issue and finds some interesting data re: Steeler backups.

http://www.advancednflstats.com/2010/04/how-badly-would-roethlisberger.h...

33
by Justin Zeth :: Wed, 04/21/2010 - 8:30am

Interesting, but very difficult to believe. The argument is "Ben Roethlisberger is only very slightly better than Charlie Batch or Dennis Dixon." You either have to accept that Roethlisberger is no better than average-to-below--in which case, given the public black eye that is his presence on the roster, he is the most wildly overpaid player in the league and the Steelers should not hesitate to release him--or you have to believe Charlie Batch or Dennis Dixon is already of above-average-starter caliber.

Seems more likely, as I'm (poorly) arguing further up in this thread, there's a 'the defense wasn't ready for the backup's different style' effect that may be even more pronounced than usual for the Steelers, because stylistically Roethlisberger is one of the weirdest quarterbacks in memory.

35
by DeltaWhiskey :: Wed, 04/21/2010 - 9:06am

Agreed, thought the findings were somewhat odd and supportive of your theory, just doesn't make intuitive sense. Is it perhaps guys like Leftwich, despite the slow windup, etc., find targets quicker; whereas, Roethlisberger waits for things to become obvious/exciting, or whatever?

36
by FireOmarTomlin :: Wed, 04/21/2010 - 9:33am

A really odd move given their *best* case outcome--- barring a string of debilitating, season-ending injuries for every opponent on the schedule--- is realistically a 7-9 season (possible/likely w's : TB, CAR, CLEx2 , MIA, BUFF, OAK). It's going to be a long long season, getting swept by the Bungholes and Ravens 2x in a row.... honestly I'd almost half-rather they just give up and go 0-16 while evaluating youth/draftees and meanwhile get a better draft pick.

------------------------
Men are more ready to repay an injury than a benefit because gratitude is a burden and revenge a pleasure.

37
by Justin Zeth :: Wed, 04/21/2010 - 9:55am

It ain't that bad. If they stay healthy--health was the big difference between the 2008 and 2009 Steelers--they can go 10-6, 11-5. I agree that right around 8-8 is the most likely outcome for them (assuming Roethlisberger plays most of the 12 games he's allowed to play), but they're not among the dregs of the league just yet. Certainly your buddy Omar isn't about to punt the season and sacrifice his job for the greater good of the Steelers' next head coach.

42
by roguerouge :: Wed, 04/21/2010 - 12:16pm

Let's not get carried away with the Bengals sweeping the Steelers. I'm not convinced that they were as good as their record last year, let alone repeating that record with a tougher schedule this year.

38
by jonah_jamison (not verified) :: Wed, 04/21/2010 - 10:11am

60-26 as a starter with 2 super bowls and a playoff record of 8-2 (better than Peyton 'Football Jesus' Manning).

Yep, Leftwich and Batch are much better. What could possibly go wrong?

45
by JCRODRIGUEZ (not verified) :: Wed, 04/21/2010 - 2:48pm

Like some have said before, let the best man win on training camp...I am confident that none of those guys will be truly awfull...and even with the suspension of Big Ben, the Steelers should remain a contender with the expected rebound from the Defense...a below .500 season would be a major shocker...

46
by Justin Zeth :: Wed, 04/21/2010 - 3:55pm

Those that expect a big rebound from the Steelers' aged defense are setting themselves up for a disappointment.