Steelers Tell Max, “Tag! You’re It!”


Once in awhile you come across something which makes you scratch your head in utter confusion. The ending of “No Country For Old Men.” That’s going to win the Oscar this year, write it down. All of Pearl Jam’s albums after Vs. Pretty much every episode of “Lost.”

Add to that list the first off-season moves by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Let’s start with the ones which do make sense. Pittsburgh released tight end Jerame Tuman, linebacker Clint Kriewaldt, and kick returner Allen Rossum this week. No surprises there.

Kriewaldt and Rossum were special teams specialists. Considering we couldn’t cover anybody on kick offs, Kriewaldt clearly wasn’t very good at it. We actually gave up a conditional draft pick for Rossum which means if he costs us anything more than a 7th rounder, we overpaid for his services. In this era of the electrifying return man, the Steelers haven’t had a decent KR since Antwaan Randle El left town. Santonio Holmes was supposed to be the answer but he fumbled the job away. Rossum’s clever tactic of signaling for fair catches when nobody was within ten yards, then letting the ball bounce behind him to make sure we started even deeper in our own territory clearly didn’t impress coach Mike Tomlin enough to keep him around. Tuman, a long-time Steeler, has served as a very capable backup since 1999. Unfortunately, Steelers Player Personnel Director Kevin Colbert struck gold with Matt Spaeth in last year’s draft thus making him expendable.

Now comes the part where the head scratching comes in. The Steelers also placed the Transitional player tag on offensive tackle Max Starks. First of all, I’m sure some of you are wondering what the hell a Transitional tag is. Evidently, it’s a weaker version of the Franchise tag. A Franchised player must be paid the average of the top 5 salaries at his position and if another team offers him a deal which his current team doesn’t match, that team must surrender two #1 draft picks as compensation. With a Transitional tag, the player is paid the average of the top 10 salaries at his position while if another team offers him a deal and it isn’t matched, no draft picks are exchanged.

Why did I go into this long-winded explanation of NFL Capology? Because the Transitional tag means we have to pay Max Starks at least $6.9 million next year. The Steelers have another free agent on the offensive line, a fellow by the name of Alan Faneca. Faneca is a 7 time Pro Bowler, 5 time All Pro, and generally considered one of the best guards in all of football. Let’s say the Steelers decided to bring out the heavy artillery and slapped the Franchise tag on Faneca. Know how much that’d cost? $7.5 million. See my problem? For about HALF A MILLION BUCKS, chump change to an NFL franchise, we could’ve kept the best guard in the league. Instead, we’re protecting Max Starks? Why? Somebody explain how this makes sense.

Furthermore, this new found man crush on Max Starks is a little perplexing considering Max WASN’T EVEN A STARTER going into this season. My Uncle Joe told me way back during Christmas that the Steelers would overpay to keep Starks because they don’t want to look cheap in losing Faneca. He must be the Polish Nostradamus because that’s exactly what has happened.

I don’t mind keeping Starks but agreeing to pay him the average of the top ten players at his position? Something doesn’t add up there. If he’s one of the ten best offensive linemen in the league, um, why wasn’t he always a starter? He did play well when he finally got a chance but if Willie Colon could beat him out, I’m not sure he’s worth $6.9 million. This isn’t like being asked to choose between Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johannson, it’s pretty easy to see if you have an Alan Faneca out there, you pick him first and take care of Max second.

The other thing is not starting Starks all season seems to be yet another one of Mike Tomlin’s highly questionable personnel decisions. Carey Davis winning the fullback job over Dan Kreider added nothing to the team, human traffic cone Sean Mahan got the center job over Chukky Okobi which makes me wonder if Chukky could’ve possibly been worse, and I’ve already talked about how useless Rossum was. Part of the greatness of Bill Cowher was he knew how to evaluate his players. He knew which situations played to their strengths and which played to their weaknesses and did his best to put them in position to succeed.

I’m beginning to wonder if Mike Tomlin has this same ability.