I'm sensing an awful lot of negativity and disappointment in previous posts' comment threads regarding how the front office has handled the whole Max Starks situation. You guys have covered many of the relevant factors in play succintly, but I thought I would weigh in with just a few more thoughts, then open it back up to you for follow-up:
- My initial reaction? Settle down guys. First of all, I've heard basically this sentiment in regards to most of the offensive tackles that should be selected before we're on the clock at #23: 'We can let that player learn the ropes for a year or two while developing, then expect great things out of them by year 3.' Now, granted Jake Long should start on Day 1, and probably will do so with success. Williams, Otah, Clady and Cherilus, and Albert (especially if he was thrown to the wolves at Tackle) might have a few growing pains, especially if they are inserted into the starting line up. My point? Starks is only 26, has started in a Super Bowl, and from the looks of it, seems to finally have realized that he needs to work his butt off to start and excel in this league. By no means is his career over and done with, and by no means should we believe that he's tapped out his potential. If we're willing to concede that most Day 1 linemen need a few years of seasoning before hitting their stride, than we must also concede that Starks has not missed the party in terms of maximizing his career potential.
- For those who say, 'well, he couldn't even crack the starting line up last year.' I respond with: it may not have been simply a matter of who had a better summer between him and Willie Colon. I wrote as much in the middle of the season last year:
- One other thought about the situation. Is it bizarre that Starks might be the second highest paid on our squad next year? Absolutely, without doubt. However, again things are not so black and white. When you're the Pittsburgh Steelers, you're typically in the hunt for a divisional crown and potential SB run every year. Despite our tough 2008 schedule, we're going to be a very competitive football team. The defense should be improved. We've upgraded at center, Hines is still around to contribute; Heath and Santonio should peak; Troy has another chance to start over healthy, etc, etc, etc. My point is sometimes you have to make an unsound decision financially if it means that the rest of the team can remain competitive. The one caveat being that said unsound decision can not hamstring the team in the longterm, which this will not. It may be a stretch in the short-run, but it certainly does not compromise the financial viability of our organization for years to come. If Starks isn't in the fold, we're hitching our wagon to Trei Essex, Jason Capizzi, Willie Colon at tackle (which proved to be a disaster last year), and not to mention, Marvel Smith's back. Or, we're just praying that one of the top OT prospects falls to us. That doesn't seem like a good plan from where I'm sitting. Instead, I'd rather have Starks back for one year, see if he's ready to mature and take the next big step forward, then reassess at the end of next year, hopefully after a deep playoff run. Sure Starks' market value is probably less than the ~$7 million he may collect, but the alternative options are to tie up more guaranteed money over a longer period of time without having tangential evidence that he's worth it or to let him go, in which case we'd be in trouble personnel wise without saving much money.
Let me put the figures in a different perspective. There's 53 players on a team, meaning each one would take up slightly less than 2% of our salary cap if all were paid equally. An equal salary distributed over the entire roster would be about $2.32 million. Starks, if he makes $7 mil, will occupy 6% of our cap space. Too much? Yes. A figure that's impossible to overcome with other shrewed moves? No. You can get some of those percentage points back with the contracts of guys like Fox, William Gay, and even Mewelde Moore are making much less than that figure. That's what we do. We don't overpay at the positions where young, fresh legs can be expected to match the minimal contributions that more established players have made in the past. That frees up scratch to dole out to the positions that are harder to just mix and match. Now, granted, that doesn't mean we should, or will ever, overpay for aging players..i.e. Faneca, or Joey Porter, especially not for the long haul. But in this specific instance, we're slightly stuck between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, we have to overpay, but A) it's not a long-term commitment and B) it's not to an aging player and C) doing so should allow us to be a very competitive football team this year. I'm not sure we would be if we were forced to start a rookie like Cherilus, or if we had to endure another season of Colon at tackle. With him at guard, Starks at RT, Smith at LT, and Essex and Colon able to back the two of them up if need be, and Chris K or Mahan able to slide into a starting Guard slot, we're in pretty good shape.
- One final thought: what if Max Starks had reported to camp in shape last year and tore things up? He'd probably be gone via free agency, unless we franchised him, something we don't do as an organization. If that was the case, we'd have NO clue if Colon could play tackle (as he would have been on the bench at least until Smith went down with his back injury), and would likely be in a similar position in '08 as we were in '07. Starks would be gone, Faneca would be gone, Colon would be an unknown, and we'd be stuck only with Hartwig and a recovering Marvel Smith. Again, from where I'm sitting, I like this scenario better.
This is just one singular opinion on the matter, and I'd love to hear I'm full of it. But I do not think this is a huge failure on the part of the front office, nor do I think that we're in a lose-lose situation. Just my two cents.