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 against Cleveland.
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 straight season.
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 Wednesday.
Bruce Gradkowski is coming home.
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College players dominate Point nominations
Pitt-Johnstown junior Jake Warner was perfect and extremely productive at the plate while earning the first two monthly nominations for the 2013 Point Stadium Award in February and March.
Mount Aloysius sophomore Derrick Capiak nearly reached perfection to take the April nomination.
Pirates roll past Brewers
Wandy Rodriguez allowed one run over seven strong innings and Neil Walker hit a two-run single as the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Milwaukee Brewers 3-1 on Wednesday night.
Rodriguez (4-2) gave up six hits, walking one and striking out five.
Dupuis coming through for Penguins
Dan Bylsma has been hearing it seemingly from the moment he took over at Pittsburgh Penguins head coach four years ago.
Every time the Penguins hit a rough patch, the murmurs about finding a polished winger to play alongside superstar Sidney Crosby pop up. Bylsma understands the sentiment. It’s just that it’s a little misplaced.
Penn State guard leaving for pro career
Penn State guard Jermaine Marshall, the team’s second-leading scorer, is foregoing his senior year of eligibility to pursue a professional career overseas.
The team announced the surprise move in a statement Wednesday. The 6-foot-4 Marshall, who is on schedule to graduate this summer, cited his family including a 1-year-old son, in making his decision.
Penn State coach blasts Sports Illustrated article
Penn State coach Bill O’Brien is fervently disputing suggestions raised in a report that player medical care has been compromised after the team doctor was replaced.
Speaking often in an angry tone that might be otherwise reserved for an argument with an official, O’Brien told reporters in a conference call that the health and safety of his players were his top priorities.
Penguins advance on overtime goal
Brooks Orpik’s goal would have been memorable even if wasn’t in overtime and didn’t put the Pittsburgh Penguins into the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
When you are a defensive-minded defenseman with only 12 goals in nine NHL seasons, they all tend to stand out.
Liriano key to Pirates' victory
Francisco Liriano finally got to pitch for Pittsburgh and, just like that, the Pirates looked like a much better team.
He struck out nine and the Pirates teed off on New York’s pitching for an 11-2 win over the Mets on Saturday.
Shade softball thriving on Karl’s watch
Frank Karl coached the majority of the girls who comprise Shade High School’s softball team from the time they played T-ball and coach pitch.
Karl was there when the group, as elementary-school students, once rallied from an 18-run deficit to win a game, and he hoped to be there when the group reached the varsity level.
MIKE MASTOVICH: Junior put his stamp on tourney
This year, Junior won’t be on the Point Stadium field for the pregame hoopla associated with opening night of the 69th annual AAABA Tournament.
He won’t watch as dozens of Corvettes and hundreds of baseball players enter through the left-field gate with their respective teams from cities such as Baltimore, New Orleans, New Brunswick and Altoona.
East Stroudsburg wins PSAC championship
Senior Brian Ernst threw eight innings without allowing an earned run on just two days rest and East Stroudsburg University used a five-run fifth inning to secure its first PSAC baseball championship since 1971 with a 7-1 win over defending champion West Chester on Saturday at Point Stadium.
The Warriors (33-16), who set a school record with their 33rd win, earned the PSAC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Division II Tournament thanks in large part to an outstanding effort by Ernst, who was named the PSAC Tournament MVP.
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