Max Starks isn't seeking sympathy, because he knows he isn't worthy. Not with gas prices rising along with unemployment, and foreclosures becoming an American staple.
Starks will earn $8.4 million next season to play left tackle as the Steelers' franchise player.
Coupled with last year's $6.9 million salary as the team's transition player, Starks will earn a mind-boggling $15.3 million over two years.
Given that the Steelers rarely throw around money like drunken sailors on leave, Starks must be a pretty valuable commodity. And while $15.3 million should be more than enough for Starks to live on for the rest of his life, he is a professional football player in the prime of his career, playing a game where multi-million dollar contracts are the norm.
Starks is merely playing by the rules.
"It's about contracts or guaranteed money,'' Starks said.
The Steelers decided to pay Starks like a Pro Bowl left tackle, effectively knocking their salary cap out of whack.
But even after spending so much money on a player who didn't open the 2008 season in the starting lineup, Starks' future with the Steelers remains uncertain.
The Steelers designated Starks as their franchise player with the purpose of signing him to a long-term deal. Starks, however, said the sides are far apart. Per team policy, the Steelers don't comment on player negotiations.
"It appears to be at a standstill," Starks said. "I thought I was a priority before. Then, they did James Harrison's deal when he had one year left. So apparently, I'm a lower man on the totem pole than I thought."
Starks isn't blameless. The Steelers will make him one of the NFL's highest-paid linemen this season. Starks could give the Steelers a "hometown'' discount and accept a multi-year contract averaging less than the $8.45 salary he will receive as a franchise player. But business, after all, is business.
"For me, it's more about the security aspect," said Starks, 27. "A lot of guys want to be somewhere securely more than paid very well for a finite amount of time. I've signed one-year deals for the last three years and haven't been offered a multi-year deal yet. You wonder: You like me enough not to lose me. Do you like me enough to keep me long term?"
Will Starks remain with the Steelers beyond 2009? Based on the apparent stalemate in negotiations, that doesn't seem likely.
"They don't (negotiate) during the season," Starks said. "Time is of the essence to get it done before the season.
"It's not all about money."
Truth be told, it's always about the money. It just so happens the Steelers are offering less than Starks will accept
By John Harris
Saturday, May 23, 2009