Steelers Tell Max, “Tag! You’re It!”

Hefty Man, Hefty Tag

Once in awhile you come across something which makes you scratch your head in utter confusion. The ending of “No Country For Old Men.” That’s going to win the Oscar this year, write it down. All of Pearl Jam’s albums after Vs. Pretty much every episode of “Lost.”

Add to that list the first off-season moves by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Let’s start with the ones which do make sense. Pittsburgh released tight end Jerame Tuman, linebacker Clint Kriewaldt, and kick returner Allen Rossum this week. No surprises there.

Kriewaldt and Rossum were special teams specialists. Considering we couldn’t cover anybody on kick offs, Kriewaldt clearly wasn’t very good at it. We actually gave up a conditional draft pick for Rossum which means if he costs us anything more than a 7th rounder, we overpaid for his services. In this era of the electrifying return man, the Steelers haven’t had a decent KR since Antwaan Randle El left town. Santonio Holmes was supposed to be the answer but he fumbled the job away. Rossum’s clever tactic of signaling for fair catches when nobody was within ten yards, then letting the ball bounce behind him to make sure we started even deeper in our own territory clearly didn’t impress coach Mike Tomlin enough to keep him around. Tuman, a long-time Steeler, has served as a very capable backup since 1999. Unfortunately, Steelers Player Personnel Director Kevin Colbert struck gold with Matt Spaeth in last year’s draft thus making him expendable.

Now comes the part where the head scratching comes in. The Steelers also placed the Transitional player tag on offensive tackle Max Starks. First of all, I’m sure some of you are wondering what the hell a Transitional tag is. Evidently, it’s a weaker version of the Franchise tag. A Franchised player must be paid the average of the top 5 salaries at his position and if another team offers him a deal which his current team doesn’t match, that team must surrender two #1 draft picks as compensation. With a Transitional tag, the player is paid the average of the top 10 salaries at his position while if another team offers him a deal and it isn’t matched, no draft picks are exchanged.

Why did I go into this long-winded explanation of NFL Capology? Because the Transitional tag means we have to pay Max Starks at least $6.9 million next year. The Steelers have another free agent on the offensive line, a fellow by the name of Alan Faneca. Faneca is a 7 time Pro Bowler, 5 time All Pro, and generally considered one of the best guards in all of football. Let’s say the Steelers decided to bring out the heavy artillery and slapped the Franchise tag on Faneca. Know how much that’d cost? $7.5 million. See my problem? For about HALF A MILLION BUCKS, chump change to an NFL franchise, we could’ve kept the best guard in the league. Instead, we’re protecting Max Starks? Why? Somebody explain how this makes sense.

Furthermore, this new found man crush on Max Starks is a little perplexing considering Max WASN’T EVEN A STARTER going into this season. My Uncle Joe told me way back during Christmas that the Steelers would overpay to keep Starks because they don’t want to look cheap in losing Faneca. He must be the Polish Nostradamus because that’s exactly what has happened.

I don’t mind keeping Starks but agreeing to pay him the average of the top ten players at his position? Something doesn’t add up there. If he’s one of the ten best offensive linemen in the league, um, why wasn’t he always a starter? He did play well when he finally got a chance but if Willie Colon could beat him out, I’m not sure he’s worth $6.9 million. This isn’t like being asked to choose between Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johannson, it’s pretty easy to see if you have an Alan Faneca out there, you pick him first and take care of Max second.

The other thing is not starting Starks all season seems to be yet another one of Mike Tomlin’s highly questionable personnel decisions. Carey Davis winning the fullback job over Dan Kreider added nothing to the team, human traffic cone Sean Mahan got the center job over Chukky Okobi which makes me wonder if Chukky could’ve possibly been worse, and I’ve already talked about how useless Rossum was. Part of the greatness of Bill Cowher was he knew how to evaluate his players. He knew which situations played to their strengths and which played to their weaknesses and did his best to put them in position to succeed.

I’m beginning to wonder if Mike Tomlin has this same ability.

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Tags: Allen Rossum Bill Cowher Colbert Cowher Faneca Johanson Kevin Colbert Lost Matt Spaeth Max Starks Mike Tomlin Natalie Portman NFL No Country For Old Men Pearl Jam Pittsburgh Pittsburgh Steelers Rossum Scarjo Scarlett Johansson Spaeth Starks Steelers Tomlin

  • Chris

    Great article, very impressed.  It’s a tough situation for any fan to feel positive about, but I like Max Starks, and I can kind of see why the Steelers are making these moves.   

  • Dave

    I thought the same thing about the price and why didn’t we just pay a little more for Faneca. The Steelers website seems to offer some clarification…after reading it, it almost sounds like they don’t want him very badly, they just want time to decide with out him just taking off at the first offer. From what I understand, they don’t even have to pay him the 6.8 mil or whatever unless NO ONE offers him anything…and that is only for one year. My guess, someone offers him a cheaper but longer team contract and the Steelers can then pay him more than that team but less than the 6.8. OR no one offers and the Steelers sign him for more than one year with a lesser signing bonus to balance the one year 6.8 number…that would unfortunately hurt the 2008 cap number but that seems to be the only drawback. Once any offer for starks is made, the 6.8 contingency on the tag seems to be a moot point. At least that’s how I understand it. So, whatever.

  • Dave

    just noticed that my name/website link in the above comment was ".com" and not ".net"

  • Chris

    Chris, don’t get me wrong, I like Starks, too.  And if the Steelers felt committing $7/yr to an OL was too much, I’d understand that also.  My problem is they showed they will spend the money, just on the guy most people would agree is the inferior of the two.  Besides, I took a look at your cool Raiders blog and right there in "How to Rebuild" you say "Sign Faneca" so I think you’re a wee bit biased on this topic.   :P

  • Chris

    Dave, I double checked the definition of "transitional" tag and the Post-Gazette’s article and they both said Starks "MUST be paid the average of the top 10 linemen…"   so I believe you’re mistaken on that one.   Regardless of what others offer or if no offer is made at all, the Steelers must pay Starks $6.9 next year.  As you said, I’m sure Starks will be willing to negotiate signing bonuses and multiple years so it might balance out to less over the long run but I’m pretty sure that number is locked in next year.   I think the reason they didn’t tag Faneca is he wants a 3-4 yr deal and the Steelers think he only has 1 or 2 top level years left so they figured why bother.  I just don’t think Starks would’ve been a hotly pursued FA or had a bidding war over him so no matter how you look at it, the Steelers way overpaid and if you’re overpaying, at least overpay for a guy who’s been a 7 time All-Pro, not a guy who got beat out by Willie Colon.

  • Dave

    this was from Still, in accordance with the rules, the Steelers would have to pay Starks a salary of $6.895 million for the 2008 season in the event he does not present them with an offer sheet during a signing period that lasts almost five full months.I think I misinterpreted that to say that if an offer was made they could maybe offer less with more security. But at second look, I think for 2008 you’re right. They pay at least 6.895 but no less. The change in amount can only go up. This year. And that hurts the cap this year. But they could get fancy and make his average contract (if they sign him longer) much less that 6.895.

  • Adam

    Chris, damn, man. I love the ending of No Country For Old Men and basically every Pearl Jam album after Vs. Ouch.FYI, my Chiefs might be coming after Starks, too. We’ll see come Friday, I suppose…

  • Chris (Raiders)

    Can’t help it, the Steelers have made some great picks dating all the way back to Dermontti Dawson.  It just feels like ages since former Raiders Steve Wisnewski and Lincoln Kennedy retired.  As much as I love the effectiveness of the Raiders new zone-blocking run scheme, it pales in comparison to the explosion of a traditional power man-to-man scheme that the Raiders and Steelers are most known for.I thought it was a tough situation for any fan to deal with when it looks like your team is willing to sign a lesser talented player (Starks) for around the same price as what it would cost them to franchise a far better athlete.But I think you’re right on, the Steelers think he’s got 1-2 years left, and he thinks 3-5.  Faneca knows he can get the contract he wants…maybe in Oakland.  He could lose 10 or 15 pounds, and possibly last 4-5 more seasons.  Look at all those damn Denver Broncos’ O-linemen that last forever; shit Tom Nalen is just now falling apart, and he’s 36.  I have no problem taking a salary cap hit for a season or two if the Raiders signed Faneca to a 4 or 5-year contract and he doesn’t complete it.  He’s worth the risk, but for the Raiders, not for your Steelers.The Raiders pride themselves in signing future Hall-of-Famers in the later years who can still play.  Ronnie Lott was the Defensive-Player of the year in his first season in Oakland.  Rod Woodson was pivotal to the Raiders last Super Bowl appearance.  Jerry Rice came over when the 49ers gave up on him only to go to 2 ProBowls and 1 Super Bowl.  

  • Chris

    Adam–I didn’t hate the ending to NCFOM, it just confused me.  Now Pearl Jam, they’ve sucked since they left the whole grunge/Seattle sound of their first 2 albums.  And if KC thinks Starks is worth $7.5mil/year, good luck to them.

    Raider Chris–Your argument makes sense and I can see Faneca going to Oakland as they do like those vets.  I’m sure Faneca will want the contract heavily front-loaded.   You guys need so many skill players pretty much everywhere that I’m not sure taking a big cap hit on the OL should be a #1 priority but I guess you gotta start somewhere.

    And, uh, to both you guys:  shouldn’t you maybe worry about finding a quarterback before you worry about building up an o-line?