datruth4life posited an interesting question in the comments section of my post-game recap:
Starks was tendered a $1.85 million 1-year deal I believe this offseason. It's pretty hard to do things on the cheap at this position in the National Football League - see Marvel Smith's $6.6 million cap hit this year, the highest on the team. You either A) pay for proven quality B) pay big signing bonuses to top flight draft picks or C) hope you found a diamond in the rough with a guy like Wille Colon and throw him into the fire.
Guys, there's lots of potential things at play here. Is it possible that the Rooneys told the staff to give Colon the nod over Starks if it was close in camp so that they could A)immediately evaluate what they had in Colon and B)keep Starks from potentially increasing his market value this year? That may sound like a dirty tactic, but I don't think it is. Perhaps they merely thought ahead and realized that if the Colon experiment didn't work out, they could potentially have Starks back for far less than if Starks put in a complete, full season at tackle for a Steelers team that is probably given too much credit by others as dominant along the line. And if Starks had been given the nod over Colon (assuming Tomlin and his staff saw little to no difference between the two), and Colon didn't see the field much this year, where would we have been at the end of this year? Well, Starks would be gone for a bigger paycheck, Faneca would be gone, and we wouldn't have much evidence to judge Colon by.
I don't know. I'm not privy to the war-room meetings of the executives, but I'm well aware this is a business (I hate when athletes say that by the way, but fact is, it's true, especially in this league). As Jerome Bettis wrote in his book:
Now, it's entirely possible Colon simply beat out Starks in camp and was given the job, but I have a hard time believing that. Despite both men's limitations, I have a hard time understanding how exactly the totally unpolished Colon could beat out a somewhat-proven veteran in Starks, who helped protect Big Ben during our SB run. Both are big and strong, and lack the elite balance and footwork that the best in the game possess. There's not much difference physically, so experience has to be a factor, no? I doubt Starks got complacent either. It's not like he signed a mega-deal with gobs of cash guaranteed. He got a 1-year tender for some decent scratch, knowing full well that if his big pay-day were to come, it would be at the end of this year.
Well, Starks has been stuck on the sideline for most of the year, mainly because of the lack of injuries. Now would be a good time to add that it's entirely possible that we were content with (or perhaps even expecting) Starks to be available as our first guy off the bench in the event of an injury. Hasn't happened until just recently, and Starks has been stuck on the bench with his stock falling.
All of a sudden, an injury does appear, he performs, and like a volatile tech stock, his value has reversed course and is moving again upward. Now we're back at datruth's original question: should we re-sign Starks after this year if he's able to maintain his solid level of play for the remainder of the season? I dunno. Again, several things to consider. Do we think Colon will make the necessary strides to be better in the future? How much has sitting on the bench affected Starks' market value in the eyes of other executives around the league? Heck, the Najeh Davenport situation may even come in play, as we may be able to free up some extra dough by letting him go this offseason.
But from a strictly football standpoint, what do you guys think? Marvel Smith turns 30 next August, Sean Mahan has been a disappointment (meaning we may need to address this issue as well this offseason), Faneca is all but out the door, and we've yet to really see too much from Willie Colon. Where does that leave us? Not in great shape actually. Kendall Simmons and Sean Mahan are on the books for fairly big numbers, Chris K is doing something wrong or he would have sniffed the field more frequently than he has, and Marvel Smith is locked up though not really playing as well as he did in years past. We the fans have been talking about the play and the future of the line all year, so it's a safe bet the Rooneys have thought through multiple scenarios and contigency plans.
If my initial hunch is correct in that Starks' value has been undermined somewhat by the overall weak play of the line and him losing his job to Colon, then I'd be a strong advocate of re-signing him to a short-term deal, even if it costs us more than we might be initially comfortable paying. I'd rather see Colon moved inside, draft a center first, then a tackle, then hope Starks and Smith stay healthy and compete with our draft pick over the next several years. All of that, of course, assumes we could get Starks re-signed in the 2-4 year, $8-$14 million range. Starks may bite at a somewhat low-ball offer if for no other reason than that this isn't necessarily his cash-cow contract coming up. He's only 25, and if he were to re-sign for 3 years, he'd still have the opportunity to make huge sums when he was 28 or 29 with the cap still growing each year to higher and higher numbers.
From a strictly football stand-point, I'm on the fence. I know there are better guys out there, but I also know that elite tackles don't grow on trees, and sometimes paying for what you have, even if it's just an above average, not great commodity is a safer bet on the field and financially than constantly looking for the next best thing. One of the main reasons I've remained calm throughout the recent struggles of our line is because it's been a cohesive unit. It's very, very hard to mix and match guys on a depleted line. We've been blessed to not be afflicted by the injury bug this year. Continuity can allow for adjustments, and I didn't think it was too late to make them. There most definitely will be substantial shakeup to this line in the offseason. I think it might be smart to keep at least one of those pieces - Max Starks - around.