Quick, name the only Offensive Lineman to start each and every regular season game of the 2012 season at the same position for the Steelers.
Believe it or not “Steeler Nation,” but if you guessed “Max Starks,” you would be correct!
That’s right readers, Starks not only started all 16 of Pittsburgh’s regular season games at the Offensive Line’s most important spot (Left Tackle), but one could argue that he was Pittsburgh’s most consistent and effective Offensive Lineman all year long.
Despite his solid effort this past year, Starks does not believe that he will be coming back for a 10th season in “The Steel City,” even after one of the best seasons of his career from a run-blocking and pass-protecting standpoint. In a recent interview with Mike Bires of “The Beaver County Times” (via Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com), Starks shared his thoughts on the prospects of him sticking with the Steelers in 2013:
“Anytime you draft tackles in the second round in back-to-back years, I think it’s their plan to have them as the starting left and right tackles in the future. That’s their goal. So being a realist, I am not expecting to be back.”
Would it be nice to see Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams step-up and emerge as the team’s starting Left and Right Tackles next year? Heck yes it would. If both could play the entire season together (16 regular season games, plus hopefully playoffs) and develop into a pair of solid book-ends to make the veteran Starks expendable during this crucial rebuilding process, I would be downright overjoyed.
Unfortunately, I live in a little place called “reality.” And I know that asking for a season without injuries along the Steelers’ Offensive Line is a pretty tall order, especially over the last half decade in which assorted ailments have plagued Pittsburgh’s players in the trenches.
If you readers care to remember, Craig and I expressed last Summer why it would be in the Steelers’ best interests to re-up the former Florida Gator to a veteran 1 year deal. Few agreed with us and our thoughts on Starks being a steady insurance policy, especially after he sustained a knee injury during Pittsburgh’s Wild Card Playoff Loss to Denver last January. But just like clock-work, once the preseason began Pittsburgh’s Offensive Linemen began dropping like flies due to injuries. Thankfully for Pittsburgh, all Max did was come in and play effective football and protect the Steelers’ signal-callers blind-side’s throughout the regular season.
Because quality depth and health remain such areas of concern along the Steelers’ Offensive Line, I believe that G.M. Kevin Colbert should at least attempt to re-up Starks for “one last go-around” with the franchise in the neighborhood of a 1 year $1-1.25 million deal (his contract last season was worth $890,000). In fact, I hope that if the Steelers do re-up Starks that the starting Left Tackle position is open to competition during this offseason. That way, Pittsburgh will give the Top 3 Tackles (Starks, Gilbert, and Adams) on their depth chart the opportunity to win the blind-side job outright. As I alluded to before, I would love to see these younger players and high Draft selections like Gilbert and Adams have to stay hungry and fight for a chance to start, especially after such an under-achieving and injury-plagued season like this past one was. Maybe the extra heat on the 2nd and 3rd year players will inspire them to take their collective games’ to new levels and leave the veteran on the sidelines.
Health permitting next season, the Steelers must find a way to play the best player at each position along the Offensive front, regardless of age and experience. Thus, if Max is yet again believed to be the best option the team will have available at Left Tackle, they should go with him until Starks either calls it quits, or a younger player usurps him, not simply going with them because of their “Draft Status.”
As it stands now, I believe that there is no harm in the Steelers attempting to sign Starks to another one year contract in the neighborhood of $1 million dollars this offseason. Best case scenario, Max wrestles the Left Tackle job away from Adams and Gilbert. Worst case scenario, Starks is a quality “Swing” backup at the Left and Right Tackle positions and stands as a steady veteran presence for the young players along the Offensive Line.
Yet if another team offers Starks more money and/or a starting job outright this offseason, then I say more power to him and “Thank You” for 9 years, 123 Regular Season Games, 96 Starts, and the opportunity to watch 2 Super Bowl wins. I just believe that it would be unwise for the Steelers’ brass to simply dismiss a player like Starks so easily, especially when the “O-Line Issues” have yet to be fully solved.
Plus, what’s wrong with having a “steady, safe, and largely inexpensive” insurance policy like Starks at your team’s disposal at such an important position?