Daily mailbag: The Bears and Leftwich

March, 13, 2009
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Sean of St. Paul is one of several readers who is surprised by; (A) Chicago's apparent lack of interest in pursuing a veteran backup quarterback and; (B) that Byron Leftwich hasn't received any interest -- from the Bears or elsewhere:

I think Byron Leftwich is a good quarterback with lots of years left in him. While he's had some ups and downs, he would be a quality quarterback to have on any team. Why haven't the Bears pursued him at this point?

It's surprising to see Leftwich sitting idle while the likes of Dan Orlovsky, Ryan Fitzpatrick, J.T. O'Sullivan and others have signed new contracts. (And Leftwich is not the only one: See the charts for this month's transactions and non-transactions.)

But when you look at it, there are at least three distinct market timings for free agent quarterbacks.

QBs With New 2009 Contracts
Player New Team
Matt Cassel Kansas City
David Carr N.Y. Giants
Kerry Collins Tennessee
Ryan Fitzpatrick Buffalo
Damon Huard San Francisco
J.T. O'Sullivan Cincinnati
Dan Orlovsky Houston
Chris Simms Denver
Brian St. Pierre Arizona
Kurt Warner Arizona

The first is just as free agency begins, when teams looking for a new starter scramble for the one or two top-tier quarterbacks available. (See: Matt Cassel.) Then there is a market for players who are strictly backups and would not challenge the team's established starter. (See: Orlovsky, Fitzpatrick and O'Sullivan.)

Then it starts getting interesting. The quarterbacks remaining on the market now must decide how long they're willing to wait. Typically, the market expands a bit late in the spring and into the summer when a handful of teams' plans change -- or are changed. Some grow dissatisfied with their depth chart after offseason workouts. Others experience an injury early in training camp or in the preseason.

Leftwich has bounced around since Jacksonville released him, but he adjusted quickly to Pittsburgh's system after joining the Steelers late in training camp last year. Waiting until the summer can be nerve-wracking, but ultimately it can put the player in better position either to get on the field or otherwise play a significant role in the upcoming season.

QBs Still Available
Player 2008 Team
Charlie Batch Pittsburgh
Kyle Boller Baltimore
Brooks Bollinger Dallas
Todd Bouman Baltimore
Jeff Garcia Tampa Bay
Gus Frerotte Minnesota
Rex Grossman Chicago
Joey Harrington New Orleans
Byron Leftwich Pittsburgh
J.P. Losman Buffalo
Patrick Ramsey Denver
Anthony Wright N.Y. Giants

I don't have an explanation for why no team has pursued Leftwich to this point. Are they concerned he won't view himself as a compliant backup in the way Orlovsky, Fitzpatrick and others would? Possibly. It also should be noted that the Steelers haven't re-signed the other candidate to back up Ben Roethlisberger in 2009, Charlie Batch. At this point, Leftwich's most fruitful route might be patience.

As for the Bears, coach Lovie Smith said last month that he felt comfortable entering training camp with Caleb Hanie and Brett Basanez competing for the No. 2 job behind Kyle Orton. Smith might have a different opinion after minicamp next week, or possibly after the April draft. But as long as there is a glut of free agents available, there isn't a huge urgency for the Bears to get a veteran backup onto their roster.

The only downside arises in a diminished span of offseason work. A quarterback who joins his team after minicamp and Organized Training Activities faces a steeper learning curve when training camp opens. But is that challenge worth rushing into a contract agreement for either side? I don't think so.



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