The Pittsburgh Steelers have finally signed starting tackle Max Starks to a four year, $26 million dollar contract.
Thus ends a long strange odyssey for both Starks and the Steelers. Max was the starting RT on the 2005 Super Bowl team. He came to camp fat and lazy the next two seasons, prompting new head coach Mike Tomlin to eventually give his starting job to then rookie Willie Colon.
However, fates intervened when LT Marvel Smith began experiencing issues with his back. Smith tried to gut it out in 2007 but his play was horrible. Max Starks assumed his spot at LT and finished the season in that role. During the offseason, the Steelers were looking at losing LG Alan Faneca and replacing human pylon C Sean Mahan. Add in the uncertainty over whether Smith could return from back surgery, the Steelers were pretty much forced to place their Franchise Player tag on Max, making the erstwhile backup OL the team’s highest paid player.
Sure enough, Smith’s back continued to bother him this season and he went down for the year after only 5 games. Starks once again stepped into the LT role. Shockingly, Starks performed very capably as the team went on to win their unprecedented sixth Super Bowl title. Following the season, Starks was once again tagged, setting his salary for 2009 at approximately $8.5 million.
Starks is a controversial fellow among Steeler Nation. If you frequent other blogs, I’m sure you’ll see people bemoaning the fact Max is overpaid. This ignores one simple question: if Starks isn’t our LT, who is?
LT is by far the hardest position to play on the OL. The LT routinely lines up against the other team’s best pass rushers. Yes, Starks has had some cringe-worthy moments. However, considering last season he lined up against Pro Bowl caliber LBs and DEs almost every week and yet surrendered the second LEAST number of sacks, I’d say that’s pretty good.
Not to mention, LTs don’t exactly grow on trees. Especially cheap trees. What the ignorant don’t seem to understand is a decent LT is such a rare and valuable commodity, a guy like Jason Peters (dumped by Buffalo, traded to the Iggles) who is slightly above average at best, commands a salary of $10-12 million PER YEAR.
The fact is, the contract the Steelers have signed with Starks guarantees him only $10 million. Since he was due eight with the franchise tag, we’re basically getting him for an extra year at less than half price. Plus the last two years (worth about $16 million) are optional. So if Max pigs out at the All-U-Can Eat buffet or the Steelers EVER draft that stud OL we always hope for, they can cut him free without any ramifications.
The offensive line now has a crucial cog in place for the next couple years. Max Starks gets his mad skrilla. And the Steelers lop about $3 million off their salary cap. A win all the way around, says I.
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