Max Starks Is Gonna Get PAID

If you’re one of the people who voted for Max Starks in my little free agency poll on the right, please leave your name in the comments.  I’d like to congratulate you on being one of the 12 finest football minds regularly reading this site.

Not that the other answers were wrong.  I certainly can’t fault anybody for picking CB Bryant McFadden.  He was a starting corner on the top rated pass defense in the NFL.  You could make an argument for WR Nate Washington, even though #3 receivers who drop one for every one they catch aren’t exactly a rare commodity.  I do congratulate my readers on recognizing the massive black hole of suck that is OG Chris Kemoeatu.

However, in that vein, we all know that if there’s one glaring weakness on the Pittsburgh Steelers, it’s the offensive line.  Five of those OL are free agents this spring, giving the team a chance to root out some of the weak links.  Allowing your franchise quarterback to be sacked in excess of 70 times over the past two seasons is simply not acceptable.  Time to do some reshuffling of the deck.

To wit, the Steelers have placed their Franchise Player tag on OT Max Starks. This guarantees Max a raise up to $8.45 million dollars next year, unless some other team wants to surrender two #1 draft picks in order to steal him away.  Now I’ve been critical of Max and his salary being as bloated as his beer gut but this is a smart move.  The Steelers paid LT Marvel Smith $6.5 million last year to sit in a hot tub so you tell me who earned their money and who didn’t.

Not to mention, Max actually had a very good season.  He was one of the few solid performers on the offensive line.  Sure at times he struggled but LT is the hardest position on the line because you’re matched up against the other team’s best pass rusher most snaps.  It’s not even Max’s natural position (he was RT on the Super Bowl XL winning team) so playing there and doing a generally solid job is quite an accomplishment.  Especially when we had guys at other far easier positions getting beat like strippers at Pacman‘s birthday party.  If there was one free agent OL worthy of being re-signed, it’s Max Starks.

The Steelers might sign him to a multi-year contract to lower the cap hit number.  As things stand now, the team is about $18 million under the cap not counting this $8.5 million hit.  They could still reconfigure the OL without breaking the bank.  Kemoeatu and Willie Colon were easily our worst two performers so I wouldn’t offer them anything but token raises.  The team has RG Kendall Simmons coming back next year while his replacement, Darnell Stapleton, was serviceable so they could always play them both if Kemo walks (believe me I’d shed no tears).  I believe we’ll use one high draft pick on OL and probably sign one bargain free agent so there should be some options in addition to what we have now.  Colon is a Restricted Free Agent so he’ll unfortunately be back at RT but since that’s the easiest position to find, I’m sure he’ll have to compete for his job with a new guy (or even Starks, if they draft a stud LT in the first round).

It should make for an interesting off-season.  In the meantime, please take a minute to click this link and vote for Nice Pick, Cowher in the great Pittsburgh Sports Blogs tournament.  I wanna duplicate Pitt’s success by making the Sweet 16 so you better get to work.  Otherwise, next time I’m keeping all the M&Ms for myself.

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  • Todd

    I sure hope the o-line is better next year, too.  When Ben said after winning the Super Bowl, “Who’s laughing now, o-line?”  I was thinking he should have said, “Who’s breathing a sigh of relief now because I scrambled my butt off in this game, o-line?” 

    Although, I do have to give them credit for not being as porous as they have been earlier in the season.  They did well enough, I think, although our run-blocking still needs serious help.

  • Chris

    Nowhere to go but up, right?

    You have to admit Ben’s support of his o-line is pretty admirable considering the beatings they allow him to take.  Still, they’re not very good.  As much as I hate to say it, I’m glad Arizona upset the Iggles.  I shudder at what might have happened if they had to face an above-average pass rush.

    The breakdown in the running game definitely has a lot to do with the bad OL play.  They just don’t move people back.  Kemo is particularly useless.  For such a huge guy, he gets surprisingly little push where Faneca was a beast.  Add in the fact we don’t have a decent fullback anymore and no wonder “Steeler Football” went awry this season. 

    Thanks for the vote in the tournament, Todd.  I appreciate it along with all the excellent comments you leave us here.  

  • The Terrible Blogger

    I mostly agree with this piece and agree that Starks and Hartwig were clearly our two best OL.  I also concur that Colon and Kemoeatu were terrible for most of this season.  However, Darnell Stapleton was CLEARLY the worst player on that OL and he is anything but serviceable.  In fact I think Stapleton is the worst starting OL I have ever seen in black and gold and I was there fore the nightmare that was the 1980′s. 

    I sincerely believe that Steelers should take a OT in the 1st round, and move Colon inside to G, opposite Simmons. 

    An OL of Starks, Colon, Hartwig, Simmons, 1st RD Pick looks a LOT better than the garbage we put out there this year.  I still can’t believe we won the SB with that OL.  They were to Super Bowl winning offensive line play what Trent Dilfer was to Super Bowl winning quarterback play.  We need to improve DRAMATICALLY in that area if we want to have any realistic hope of competing for SB XLIV.


  • Chris

    Now that line did win a Super Bowl, including a playoff game against the Chargers where Ben was barely touched, so saying that if by some chance we go into next season with the exact same group means we have no realistic shot at winning is way too extreme.  Let’s not go overboard.

    I’m reluctant about making any plans via the draft because you don’t know how things are going to fall.  If there’s a run on OL like last year and the Steelers can’t/won’t move up, I’d rather they take Best Player Available.  If a future Pro Bowl DL or CB is sitting there, it’d be stupid to take an OT with late 2nd round talent just because that’s their need.  They will address the OL but I’m not going to say “They have to take a starter with their first pick this year” because we can’t assume such a player is going to be there waiting for us.

    I do like your idea about Colon, though.  He can’t possibly be worse inside at G than he showed out at RT.

    As for Stapleton, his first 3-4 games were atrocious.  He got steadily better as the season progressed and I think he was okay by year’s end.  Not good but mediocre.  He’s decent in pass protection (better than Kemo by far) but very sub-par as a run blocker due to his size.  In a perfect world, yeah I’d like someone better but barring this Colon move, a Simmons/Stapleton combo seems preferable to Simmons/Kemo.