Why Does Byron Leftwich Not Have a Job?

Adi SCorrespondent IMarch 11, 2009

In the midst of free agency, players are switching teams and staying with teams. Some get signed to contracts much smaller than they had anticipated, while others get shockingly large deals. However, one player is still waiting on a phone call to play for a team.

Byron Leftwich is still unsigned. He isn't waiting for a better deal while having one on hold, he is just not signed yet.



This is one of the more surprising developments of the free agency period and it's a non-move.

To the average fan, Leftwich seems like a draft bust, being drafted so high (seventh in 2003), but not living up to expectations.

However, Leftwich really wasn't a bust. There were extenuating circumstances such as injuries, poor talent around him at certain key positions, and a bad system fit with whatever team he has been with. But why Leftwich is not a bust is for another article.

This article, on the other hand, is about wondering why Leftwich is unemployed at the moment.

If anything, his performance this season should have solidified his place as an NFL player. In the few games when the Steelers needed his service in a game, whether it be via blowout or injury to Big Ben, Leftwich has stepped up as a capable backup.

In five games this season, Leftwich has thrown for 303 yards, two touchdowns, and has a 104.3 quarterback rating. Now, tell me that he wouldn't be a capable backup somewhere.

For comparison, a player who was signed as a backup was Dan Orlovsky. The same Dan Orlovsky who didn't win a game as the starter for the Detroit Lions this season.

The same Dan Orlovsky who has no knowledge of the dimensions of a football end zone. The same Dan Orlovsky who has proven to be incapable as a backup in 2005 when he was 7 for 17 in two games, no touchdowns.

So, Houston decided that Orlovsky was worth a three-year, $9 million contract to backup Matt Schaub, but no other team thinks that Byron Leftwich would be a good investment? The Steelers did and they ended up winning the Super Bowl.

I'm not saying that Byron Leftwich is responsible for the Steelers winning the Super Bowl, but a backup quarterback is very important in the NFL, and Byron is the best one that's unsigned, and is better than those who were already signed.

For another comparison, let's take a look at David Carr. After a horribly disappointing season with Carolina in 2007, there would be questions whether he would have an NFL career period.

But, the Giants took a risk on him and signed him to a one-year deal to back up Eli Manning. Carr didn't play much, but when he was called upon to play in the second half of the season finale against Minnesota, he played very well, completing 8 of 11 passes and getting a touchdown.

So let's look at their stats in 2008:

Byron Leftwich: 21 for 36, 303 yards, 2 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 5 games played

David Carr: 9 for 12, 115 yards, 2 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 2 games played

Carr recently re-signed with the Giants to continue to back up Eli Manning. And Leftwich? Well, if that was case, this article wouldn't exist.

It is a little hard to believe that he wouldn't be a positive addition to any of the 32 teams in the NFL. Look at the New York Jets, for example.

Their front-runner for the starting job is Brett Ratliff, whose career highlight was a solid preseason. But competing for the job are Kellen Clemens and Erik Ainge.

Leftwich would be an improvement over all of them and if he can't compete for the starting job, he would be a good veteran presence to guide whichever young quarterback ends up being the starter.

There must be something about Leftwich that I'm missing here. To me, he is a solid quarterback with a big arm and good vision, but lacking mobility.

But, he is by no means a bad player. As far as I know, he isn't a malcontent in the locker room, nor does he have poor work ethic. So what's the reason for this?

It's not only right now that I'm scratching my head on Byron. In the 2007 season, the Atlanta Falcons were a team in need of a quarterback. In lieu of the Michael Vick situation, they were in a rut at the QB spot.

They had Joey Harrington and Byron Leftwich signed to take over that position for the season. Harrington got a majority of the starts and when he went down with an injury...they went to Chris Redman, a career irrelevant who hadn't played a game since 2003?

To reiterate a previous question: What? Leftwich only started two games that season.

And back to the point about him being a bust. If you look at it as a whole, Byron Leftwich has not had a bad career. A career touchdown to interception ratio of 54-38, over 9,000 passing yards, and a career QB rating of 80.3.

By comparison, Bruce Gradkowski has a career touchdown to interception ratio of 9 to 13, less than 2,000 passing yards, and a rating of 59.9. And the Raiders signed him to a one-year contract the day he became a free agent.

And Leftwich isn't a creaking old veteran. He's still 29 years old and while injuries have been a problem previously in his career, he has been relatively healthy in his past two campaigns with Atlanta and Pittsburgh.

Add that all together, here we have a 29-year-old quarterback who can be a solid backup or spot starter for a team with a career rating of 80.3.

So even after all that, even after being a very solid backup for the Steelers this season, Leftwich is still looking for a job. The reason? I have no idea. Maybe he tears locker rooms apart and is an awful teammate.

Maybe he coasts during practice, which is why he never moved up the depth chart in Atlanta. Maybe every single team is satisfied with the quarterback situation they have right now. Maybe all of these scenarios are very unlikely.

Maybe it's the fact that he was a high pick. Teams might be more inclined to take guys drafted in later rounds or not at all such as Gradkowski or Orlovsky because they're more likely to accept their roles as a back-up and high draft picks don't know how to come off the bench.

But David Carr was once the first pick overall in 2002. And he was a far bigger bust than Leftwich. So, perhaps it's not the fact that he was drafted so high.

Maybe there is another reason behind this that Leftwich has no control over. The same reason why Aaron Brooks and Shaun King are still waiting on their calls from NFL teams. I'd hate to be that guy who would bring race into a situation where it's not needed, but it's hard to ignore in this particular situation.

We've seen it happen time and time again with quarterbacks such as Leftwich, Brooks, and King (perhaps more insight into this is in line for another article), but I really don't want to believe that this is the reason why Byron Leftwich is still looking for a job.

Whatever the reason is, we probably won't find out and I just don't know. But what I do know is this. If you're an NFL GM, and you need a quarterback, Mr. Leftwich is waiting for your phone call.


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