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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Bengals make low offer to Hawkins
Johnstown’s Andrew Hawkins grew up with the Cincinnati Bengals while following his older brother Artrell Hawkins Jr.’s NFL career.
The younger Hawkins could see himself wearing a Bengals uniform and playing wide receiver in Cincinnati for years to come. But the Bishop McCort High School graduate knows the business side of the NFL sometimes gets in the way of the storybook ending.
Second place little consolation to contenders
Perspective can be a tricky thing in athletics.
Just ask Richland’s Nico Pecora and Bedford’s Jon Gabriel.
PIAA wrestling notebook: Murin not pleased with fifth place
Max Murin won the first 36 matches of his varsity career.
But the Central Cambria freshman was disappointed after he dropped two consecutive bouts on Friday night at the PIAA Class AA Wrestling Championships.
Berlin girls avenge earlier loss to Portage
Berlin Brothersvalley was highly motivated to play Portage on Saturday in their PIAA Class A girls’ first-round basketball matchup at Central Cambria High School.
The Mountaineers, who lost at Portage earlier in the season, held the Mustangs to a single basket in the first half on 1 of 21 shooting Saturday and went on to a 59-42 victory.
Shade girls nip Bishop Carroll
Alexis Meck isn’t the first name that comes to mind when the Shade girls’ basketball team is the topic.
On Saturday, her name was the last in the scorebook as the Panthers edged Bishop Carroll 56-54 in a PIAA Class A first-round game at Pitt-Johnstown’s Sports Center.
Conemaugh Township eliminated
After weathering Summit Academy’s first-half dominance and using the third quarter as a springboard to their first lead of Saturday’s PIAA Class AA boys first-round game, it appeared that District 5 champion Conemaugh Township had solved the Knights.
At the very least, the Indians had frustrated them.
Quaker Valley trips Richland in OT
There were just two shots taken in the overtime on Saturday in the first-round PIAA Class AA boys’ basketball game between Quaker Valley and Richland.
The Quakers had both shots including the game-winner by Winter Fondi with time winding down in a 42-40 victory over the Rams in a nailbiter.
Tomahawks drop key decision
Just two weeks ago, the Johnstown Tomahawks had earned points in five straight games, with four victories during that span.
Not so long ago, Johnstown had moved into a tie for second place in the NAHL North Division.
Pitt slips past Clemson in OT
Lamar Patterson had a career-high 30 points, including a 3-pointer with 3 seconds left, as Pittsburgh overcome a five-point deficit in the final seconds of regulation and beat Clemson 83-78 in overtime Saturday.
Patterson’s 3 with 3 seconds left cut the Tigers’ lead to 67-65.
Robert Morris holds off St. Francis in NEC
Karvel Anderson and Lucky Jones came up big again for top-seeded Robert Morris, with 21 and 18 points, respectively, but clutch free throws by David Appolon preserved a 60-57 victory over sixth-seeded St. Francis in a Northeast Conference semifinal on Saturday.
The Colonials (21-12) advance to Tuesday’s championship for the fifth time in six years, facing fourth-seeded Mount St. Mary’s (15-16).
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