PITTSBURGH – Max Starks was an injured player in a bleak locker room, but the Pittsburgh Steelers’ massive offensive tackle couldn’t help but smile when informed that the team had placed a priority on re-signing him this off-season.
“I would hope I’ve proven my worth to this team,” Starks said. “I hope so because I love it here. It’s the first place – I got drafted here. I love the community here and I do a lot in the community.”
And he was beginning to do a lot more. After losing his job at right tackle in training camp, Starks effectively replaced injured left tackle Marvel Smith over the final month of the season. It became obvious to the Steelers that Starks is one of their five best linemen and they’ve adjusted their off-season thinking accordingly.
But it may be too late, since Starks, who turns 26 on Wednesday, would undoubtedly receive several attractive offers on the open market in March.
Is he anxious to wait until the market opens to test his worth?
“I’m not really anxious,” he said. “But you have to look at your options, particularly after this year. I sat the bench most of the year.”
Will that factor into his thinking this spring?
“It’s got to factor in,” Starks said. “Do they want to sign me and put me in the same situation as it was this past year, where there was competition but no competition at the same time?”
Obviously, the Steelers plan to re-insert Starks as one of their starting tackles next season. If Smith returns healthy, current tackle Willie Colon could be moved inside to guard. Kendall Simmons could also slide to left guard and Alan Faneca could conceivably move to center.
Faneca said last week that he’s open to such talk, and the rest of the Steelers believe re-signing Faneca is a must. He and Starks are the team’s most significant free agents-to-be.
“Some of you guys thought [Faneca] was washed up,” Hines Ward told a group of reporters. “I don’t know what you guys have been looking at. He’s been the consummate pro -- teaching the young guys, playing his heart out and never complaining or griping about anything. It’ll be a loss to our organization if he’s not here next year.”
Ben Roethlisberger interrupted his post-game response about the team’s defensive effort Saturday to lobby for Faneca.
“If this was my last game with Alan Faneca, and I hope it isn’t, it truly was an honor and a privilege to be his quarterback,” Roethlisberger said. “I love him to death.”
Faneca, if paid his market value, would leave behind his lame-duck status of this past season to return to the role of active offensive leader.
“Yeah, and I think it would say a lot to the players as well,” said Troy Polamalu. “You want to see the guys that have really worked hard get paid off. It would mean a lot to the team and obviously a lot to Alan and his family.”
Polamalu was asked to describe Faneca as a teammate.
“A blessing,” Polamalu said. “I’ve never seen anybody show up and work like him every day and never complain. He’s really a leader on this team – whether he wants to admit it or not. I really hope we do something good for him because he really deserves it more than anybody I’ve ever seen in this organization.”
Faneca’s wife Julie hopes her family can stay in Pittsburgh. Starks, meanwhile, has his own ties to the city.
“My aunt lives here and she’s lived here since I was born, so I’ve been coming up here since I was a kid,” Starks said. “It’s definitely like my home and I definitely don’t want to leave. It would be a tough situation if I had to, but it’s one of those things where we have to see where I fall into their scheme of things. I hope I am here again.”
By Jim Wexell
Posted Jan 6, 2008