What the Pittsburgh Steelers' Quarterback Competition Really Means

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What the Pittsburgh Steelers' Quarterback Competition Really Means
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

We have heard since the day that Ben Roethlisberger was sent for his clinical evaluation that there was an important battle at Steelers OTAs. It was a battle between Byron Leftwich, Dennis Dixon, and Charlie Batch.

All three men were supposedly given, or were going to be given, a fair shot to showcase their abilities to see who would replace Roethlisberger while he served his suspension for the first six games of the season.

What was really happening was, no one knew what exactly was going to be found in the evaluation of Ben Roethlisberger. There was a chance that Roethlisberger was going to be found with a serious issue, one that may have even ended his career.

There was talk that the issues Roethlisberger was having could be related to all of the concussions he has suffered during his football days. Had that been the case, there is a good chance that Roethlisberger would have never played football again.

There was a chance that Roethlisberger could have had a deep-seated hatred towards women and that his behavior towards them would have needed considerably more time to correct than simply the first few games of the regular season.

That is the reason the NFL stated that Roethlisberger's suspension could be extended beyond six weeks if the evaluation came back with those issues.

Then there is the issue that Roethlisberger has an alcohol problem and needs to get it under control, and if he is unable to do so, as with the above issue, his suspension could still be extended.

Last but not least, there may not be any problem with Roethlisberger at all, and he simply needed to prove this to the Steelers and the NFL.

The point being, prior to the Steelers knowing what the outcome was going to be, they had to hope for the best but prepare for the worst.

The Steelers had to take the time they have to this point not to find someone who would be willing to start four games for the Steelers, but to find someone that could be the long-term replacement for Roethlisberger had his suspension been longer than four games.

To this point, we have heard that Byron Leftwich has gotten the majority of the first team reps, while Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch have not had, as some would say, a fair shot with the first team.

That is because the Steelers believe that if Roethlisberger was gone for the season, or more, that the Steelers' best chance of success, over the course of the year, would be with the experience of Leftwich.

If Roethlisberger were to be gone more than a quarter of the season, Leftwich would get the starter's reps, while Dixon would get the second team reps with the first unit during the season.

That would enable the Steelers to give Dixon some more time to be ready to lead the team in 2011 if Roethlisberger was not back by then.

Now that Roethlisberger is only staying out of trouble away from a shortened suspension, the Steelers' game plan may be changing.

Though Leftwich will probably still get the start for the first four games, look for Dixon to start getting some more first team reps and possibly some game action as the starter in the preseason.

It also means that the value of Dennis Dixon has just improved with the Steelers, because he could be the Steelers' backup of the future. Leftwich left the Steelers before because he wanted to have the chance to start. Believe that he still wants to be a starter today.

When Roethlisberger returns from suspension, the Steelers have a bye week prior to his first game. If Roethlisberger is up to speed and has stayed in shape during his suspension, don't be too surprised to see Byron Leftwich traded before the trade deadline.

If Leftwich plays well, look for teams like the San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks, and any other team that has either QB issues or an injury to come looking for the availability to trade for a starting-caliber player like Leftwich will prove he is.

Would the Steelers trade him? 

Without question—IF Dennis Dixon is ready to be the backup.

Why?

Because the Steelers have a roster exemption for Roethlisberger while he is suspended. Any of the three of Leftwich, Batch, and Dixon that are on the opening day roster, because they are past their third years in the league, their salaries are fully guaranteed on opening day of the season.

Leftwich and Batch both signed two-year contracts with the Steelers this offseason, and Dixon is not going to be allowed to walk away with no compensation.

Do you really think that there is a chance the Steelers are going to leave Roethlisberger on the bench when he comes back? The Steelers are HIS team, and if he can play, he will.

Why have a controversy with Leftwich still on the team? If he is playing well, there WILL be a team that is in need of a starter, and Leftwich could bring as much as a second round pick.

Under this scenario, none of the Steelers quarterbacks under contract will ever have to be cut. The Steelers will be able to choose which ones they keep and may get a decent draft pick out of it as well.

But that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.

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