2013 Steelers Training Camp Questions – What To Do With John Parker Wilson

By Matthew Marczi

Whether or not it was a surprise that the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted a quarterback in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft depended greatly on who you asked. Equally elusive was the answer to the question of whether or not it was a good idea.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger missed three games during the 2012 season due to an unusual shoulder injury, and his performance continued to suffer after his return. In his stead, backups Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch muddled through a 1-2 record that was earned primarily due to strong performances from the defense.

During the 2011 season, Roethlisberger played through a significant high ankle sprain that he otherwise might not have if the team were more confident in their reserve signal callers. The drubbing at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers told the story of why that was a bad idea. The Steelers went on to limp into the postseason, only to be ousted by Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos in the first round.

In order to shore up the position, and to “freshen up the room”, in the words of quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner, the Steelers allowed both Batch and Leftwich to walk in free agency, in all likelihood ending their professional careers.

It is a matter of opinion—and of time—whether or not the team’s subsequent moves have put the Steelers in a better position to withstand the loss of their franchise quarterback for a game or two, but they certainly have gotten younger.

The Steelers signed veteran backup—and local native—Bruce Gradkowski to a three-year contract to serve as Roethlisberger’s understudy, and followed that up by selecting former Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Landry Jones in the fourth round of this past draft.

Before either of those moves, however, the Steelers claimed former Atlanta Falcons reserve quarterback John Parker Wilson off the waiver wire from the Jacksonville Jaguars toward the end of February earlier this year. In fact, they were the only team to put in a claim.

Pro Football Talk was only one of many voices expressing ambivalence toward that move. They wrote that the team is “just taking advantage of the roster spot to take a look at a quarterback who might be an arm for them to use during offseason work”, adding that “Wilson might last with the team until camp or he might be bounced from the roster long before the start of summer”.

That mindset echoed the prevailing opinion that John Parker Wilson was simply a camp arm and nothing more. Indeed, that was basically all that was said on the topic since the moment he signed—that is, up until recently.

The profile on John Parker Wilson was a young guy who had a big arm, an arm that sometimes was too big for his own good, and whose accuracy was poor. That scouting report seemed to fit throughout the early portion of the offseason activities. But that seems to have changed with the start of training camp.

The first to comment on Wilson in training camp, to the best of my knowledge, was Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider. On Saturday, he wrote on Twitter, “John Parker Wilson, who couldn\’t hit anything in the spring, can\’t miss anything here at camp”.

Later on in the day, Bob Labriola joined the John Parker Wilson bandwagon emphatically during the Saturday edition of Steelers Live on the team’s website:

[The prevailing opinion was that] John Parker Wilson is the camp arm. It really hasn’t turned out to be that way so far…in my eyes, that’s not even close. In my eyes John Parker Wilson is clearly at least number three, maybe he’s pushing two in terms of how he looks on the field. He’s got a nice, strong arm. On consecutive plays in this recent practice, he showed a nice touch down the field where you had to float the ball over the coverage and dropped it in to a tight end, and then he also on the next play zipped one over the middle in between some defensive backs. John Parker Wilson, he’s been kicked around the league a little bit so he has some experience. He has arm strength and touch. If you made me cut the roster to three quarterbacks, John Parker Wilson would be one of the three.

Granted, all of this is being said before even a snap in a preseason game has been taken. John Parker Wilson is a fourth-year veteran, and Landry Jones is a rookie.

Let’s assume, however, that by the end of the preseason, it is clear that Wilson is and will be the better quarterback in 2013 between he and Landry Jones. So then, what to do with John Parker Wilson?

Perhaps the more pointed question would be this: can the Steelers risk Landry Jones to the practice squad?

The Steelers have risked fourth round picks before—and lost. Twice, in fact, in 2010. The Steelers drafted three linebackers in 2010, one of them being fourth round selection Thaddeus Gibson, who, having missed spring practices due to school obligations, was the low man on the totem pole when the team needed to make room on the roster, rather than placing Aaron Smith on injured reserve.

They waived Gibson, hoping to put him on the practice squad, but he was picked up. To fill the void on the practice squad left by calling up Steve McLendon, the team picked up Al Woods, a fourth round rookie whom the New Orleans Saints attempted to stash away on their own practice squad.

A few months later, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed him off the Steelers’ practice squad; it was a year before they would get him back after the Seattle Seahawks cut him loose in November 2011. It is also noteworthy that the Steelers once put in a waiver claim to reclaim Gibson—currently with the Tennessee Titans, whom the Steelers play Week 1—but they lost the bid.

Clearly, it is no sure thing to be able to stash away a fourth round pick on the practice squad. The Steelers have lost sixth rounders, even undrafted free agents, from the practice squad.

There are a lot of things to consider, although one of them, I suspect, will not be the possibility of carrying four quarterbacks. Landry Jones, of course, possesses draft value; whether right or wrong, teams often place added value on their own picks. Losing a fourth round pick—which equates to whiffing on a pick in the fourth round—is accompanied with no small amount of scorn, which the Steelers received when they lost Gibson.

And quarterback, as always, is a premium position. Surely there is some team around the league that would have room on their roster for a fourth round rookie quarterback. In other words, the chances are high that if Landry Jones somehow does not make the 53-man roster, he will be gone.

On the other hand, there is certainly no guarantee that anybody would be interested in John Parker Wilson. After all, the Steelers were the only team that tried to claim him in February.

Gradkowski was signed to be the backup, and thus will be the backup unless he really struggles. But what happens if both Roethlisberger and Gradkowski are injured, and Wilson is still available? Would the Steelers cut somebody and bring back Wilson to start the next week in favor of Jones? That is a question the Steelers sincerely hope they never have to answer.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • JohnnyV1

    Let’s see how he looks in the games. Thought it’s encouraging JPW is doing well. And why are we using his middle name, that is usually left to identifying guys who shoot famous people.

  • steeltown

    I think it all depends on what they foresee in the future, how much do they place on the ‘potential’ of Landry Jones..they in all likelihood could call and bring back Wilson at a later date in an emergency during the regular season if needed. In the end Landry Jones is a rookie and it was well known to all, including the Steelers FO that he would need time to develop his game

    I doubt they choose Wilson over Landry Jones and risk losing him.. of course the other possibility, as mentioned would be to carry 4QBs which they have done numerous times in the past. If we end up only keeping 4RB’s, 5WRs or 5CBs, 8OL etc. there will be an open roster spot or two available

  • StrengthOfVictory

    Was spending a fourth rounder too high a pick for a backup QB? Unless Jones was intended to be the replacement for Ben in 4-5 years, then probably. That said, if he wasn’t…and the Steelers are just looking for good, solid backups to Ben for the roster, you go with the best ones available.

  • Jonathon Bert Schade

    Hey, I never shot nobody!

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    I tend to agree with this. In this particular situation you are not looking at this season alone. You have to look long term. Which player has the higher ceiling? Which player is a better fit for the system? Which player wants to be here as a long term back up? Which player’s contract is more appealing? Could he be a long term replacement for Ben?

    Now if that players turns out to be John Parker Wilson, you absolutely keep him instead. I know it’s upsetting to whiff on a draft pick but the reality is over 50% of all draft picks don’t stick with their team. You keep the better player.

    You don’t keep Cedric Humes over Willie Parker just because he was our draft pick. You don’t keep Rian Wallace over James Harrison just because he was our draft pick. You let the best man win. Football is a competition. It doesn’t matter how you got here. You’re play is what determines your roster spot.

    Having said all that, you don’t just let the 4th QB walk. You try to trade him. Get some kind of value for him. Not too long ago we traded a former 1st rounder (Santonio Holmes) for a future 6th rounder (which turned out to be Antonio Brown).

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    I think drafting Landry Jones is more of a luxury than a need. While yes he was our 4th round pick, you could see how by long it took them to make the pick that they had their eye on B.J. Webb the cornerback from William and Mary (looking at our currently situation, Webb would have been awesome unfortunately) I have hard time seeing JPW being snubbed in favor for our 4th round pick.

    Maybe I’m wrong but I don’t think I am.

  • RMSteeler

    I started to get a bad feeling about L. Jones when it took so long for Steelers to sign him. Why? Did he want to go to a team where he could compete to start. Was he requesting a trade in lieu of signing? Why is someone with so much experience and success at a high level in college struggling so far? Is he sandbagging, hoping to be picked up on a practice squad move? Felt OK about the pick at the draft, not so good now. Hope it’s not so, but could he be playing mediocre now to get to another team without a franchise QB?

  • steeltown

    Agreed.. look at Matt Cassel, hell even Ryan Mallet (currently with NE) has been in the discussion of trade

  • mem359

    To view the glass as half-full, the Steelers are lucky to have a “camp arm” show that he might develop into a real quarterback backup. Better to have the tough choice and the competition, rather than being “stuck” with Jones.

  • dgh57

    I always thought they had their eye on the multi positional OL Barrett Jones myself being at the time our depth on the o-line was deficient. As for L. Jones & JPW it depends on who plays better this preseason.

  • dgh57

    That strategy could backfire on L. Jones. He could be picked up by a losing team like the Jaguars. So unless winning isn’t his thing he would be better served where he is. I thought the same thing about Jones in how long it took him to sign being it’s going to be at least 2016 before he starts. I know I wouldn’t want to roam the sidelines that long when I know I have the talent to start sooner!

  • Matthew Marczi

    You make a good point there. On the one hand, an unheralded free agent signing makes your draft pick look bad. On the other, however, you get a player better than the one you drafted. That is actually kind of how I view Thaddeus Gibson in light of Al Woods. Woods was a player that the Steelers liked in that draft right around where they selected Gibson. Gibson has ultimately washed out (even though they did want to get him back at one point), but in his place, Woods is in the process of making himself an indispensable 5th defensive lineman who can play all three positions.

  • Matthew Marczi

    It looks like we’ve got a nice discussion going on here. I’m pleased to be able to provide a hypothetical situation that generates a quality conversation like this one.

  • Matthew Marczi

    You know, the idea of a trade hadn’t occurred to me. Of course we have a long way to go before that is even an issue, and four preseason games to play. I don’t know how likely it is that either Jones or Wilson play so well that they generate trade interest (maybe a player trade is more likely than a draft pick? The Colts and Eagles swapped some bottom of the roster guys last year, for example), but it’s certainly possible.

  • Paul



    we should have just kept Batch as third string and drafted Webb to give our secondary another young promising corner. we seem incapable of getting through the draft without at least one dumb move

  • Gautama Om

    If JPW continues to look like a #3 or even a #2 QB then I think the best option is to trade Landry Jones for a 5th or 6th rounder. I’m sure at least a few teams were eyeballing him for the 5th or 6th round this past draft until we picked him up in the 4th. So certainly we should be able to get a 5th or 6th rounder for Jones.

  • RMSteeler

    Another thought on why it took so long is that he (and agent) thought he would go two rounds higher. May have a Brady-esque chip on his shoulder and wanted to wring out as much guaranteed money as has been suggested. Just got a feeling he didn’t want to be paid so little to carry a clipboard for 4 yrs. If he’s really unhappy, I say trade him if JPW keeps improving and outplays Jones. Maybe he’d be happier with the Jets!

  • Luke Shabro

    Jonathan Bert Schade wins the interwebz today! Haha

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    Personally if I’m Kevin Colbert, all FOUR quarterbacks are healthy by end of pre-season (and that’s a IF, knocks on wood) and if John Parker Wilson have showed plenty, I’d trade Landry Jones away to teams that are in need for back-up QB and there’s always some quarterbacks who get hurt. Trade value might not be same but heck if we can get something in return without losing all of it, I’m game. Of course, this mean they will have to move FAST before anyone noticing and say “oh that kid JPW is outplaying Landry Jones? We will wait for Waiver list”. I have heard that JPW seem to be much more natural passer than Landry Jones is right now so that’s one thing i’m more interested in.

  • Mike.H

    That’s because John Wilson, John Smith is the most vanilla of all vanilla.. adding parker is like syrup or sprinkles on top. It now has identity..

  • Stephen Dale

    another solution would be for the FO to finally admit a rebuilding phase is underway and trade Roethlesberger for a number of #1 draft choices and keep Gradkowski, Wilson, & Jones.. Sacrificing the “short term ” for the “longterm” would strengthenthis team’s foundation for many years to come. Big Ben might garner as many as four top selections and, after all, he is past 30.

  • cencalsteeler

    Giving up on the 13 season Stephen? Wow, I am speechless.

  • cencalsteeler

    Let the preseason sort the two. Obviously we would have to skew Jones’ inexperience, but if JPW shines, it would be hard to release him. If we missed on Landry, so be it. I thought drafting a qb this past draft was a little too premature. There are plenty of young college qbs to choose from in the up coming drafts and it might be a little too early to find Bens successor now. I thought immediately after they called Landry’s name on draft day, it was trade bait.

  • Shawn S.

    Are you a ravens fan?

  • Shawn S.

    This is a great article. I didn’t know JPW from LJ until I read this. Thanks for the well laid out insight.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    Exactly and even Matt said it as well…lets wait and see how he does in preseason.

  • Shawn S.

    I think it’s wayyy too early to get excited about JPW. There’s a reason he’s drifted around the NFL. Maybe it’s lack of consistency, which means he looks great at times, but can’t maintain. My guess is they saw something in LJ that told them he’s worth a 4th round pick. If they go with 3 QBs, they should keep LJ.
    That said, knowing the Steelers, they will go with whoever performs best in camp and during the preseason. If JPW continues to wow them, they will keep him.
    Go Steelers.

  • dgh57

    What have you been SMOKIN’?

  • Shannon Stephenson

    The most important position in the NFL is QB and if you get a guy at the value we drafted Landry I cannot see how you can go wrong however you do point out what many others have but the honest opinion was we have more needs then we had draft picks.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    the problem with that is you are not guaranteed to find another QB as good a BB. We went 20+ years till we got another franchise QB and need to keep Ben as long as he is serviceable.

  • bonairsfavoriteson

    Jones career at okie was in reverse since his sophomore year which was his best year. He showed very little improvement, why the steelers drafted him is a mystery, if the steelers are worried about looking bad by cutting him, just let them remember the 2008 draft, right now, they have to keep the best player, we have seen enough of a hope and prayer when it comes to backups, either ya can play or ya can’t . people will say he is only a rookie but he has a track record of not getting better as a qb at okie.

  • VaDave

    I think the goal here is we need a young QB to groom to replace Ben, and or provide depth. If it isn’t Jones, and we “whiff” on a 4th round pick, who cares? We found and or developed an uncovered gem as a FA instead, that is going to cost us less money in the long term. In fact, I’d feel pretty good about that.
    But, lets; not get the horse before the cart as JohnnyV1 says, he’s got to prove it in the games first.

  • treeher

    I still don’t understand what has been the problem with John Parker Wilson. He holds every record at Alabama but has not even been able to get on the field in NFL, let alone be retained on active roster. Steelers were only team to express interest when he was waived. I’ve never seen him in action, but there must be a reason why he has been a bust. Has to be more than arm accuracy.

  • treeher

    Stephen, I think you’re brainstorming a bit too much.