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Max Starks: 'I am not expecting to be back' in 2013

One of the most polarizing players in team history looks to make his last start as a Steeler Sunday against Cleveland.

Gregory Shamus

Max Starks' time in Pittsburgh may be coming to an end, but what a legacy he's left.

Starks is source of one of the most intense and longest-lasting battles between a front office and a coaching staff in team history. From the transition tag in 2008 to an extension in 2010, to being released in 2011 to being signed four games into that same season to getting a one-year deal for 2012, Starks has earned both the praise of the team as well as the ire of the coaching staff.

Bill Cowher benched him. The Steelers brought in Jonathan Scott to replace him. They've now drafted tackles with back-to-back second round picks. The 2013 season could be be the year the Steelers end the Max Starks Bailout Plan.

Starks, the only player in NFL history to start at right and left tackle on two Super Bowl champion teams, may head into retirement after this season, leaving as a fan favorite.

He told Beaver County Times reporter Mike Bires recently, "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."

Odds are excellent he's right. But that's been said before.

Starks was cut in training camp of the 2011 season, a mistake that proved costly. With Jonathan Scott at left tackle, the Steelers pass protection was deplorable in their first four games, leading the team to sign him back despite having already paid off the balance of his original contract. Starks started the rest of the 2011 season, and the Steelers finished 12-4. He tore his ACL in the Steelers' postseason loss at Denver, but was still resigned into training camp as it became apparent rookie Mike Adams was not going to be ready to be a starter.

Starks took his left tackle position back, and with his start today, will have started the Steelers' last 28 games at left tackle.

The starting tackles in 2013 will most likely be Marcus Gilbert and Adams. Both will end the 2012 season injured - Gilbert was placed on injured reserve and hasn't played since Week 7, and Adams suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 12 and hasn't been back.

While Starks hasn't been outstanding in 2012, he represents a stop-gap solution to a problem the Steelers have been battling since Marvel Smith was injured during the 2008 season - a lack of a franchise left tackle. The Steelers bounced Starks around to left and right tackles and cut him but no one better ever took his spot.

And Starks made a nice chunk of change in the process.

It's hard not to smile thinking about that, particularly if this is his last game in Pittsburgh, or maybe even for his career. He should stay in shape, though, because if history is any indication, the Steelers may need Starks to help bail them out again at some point next year.