February 19, 2009
By Donald Starver
Steelers’ offensive tackle Max Starks must have been born in a field of four leaf clovers. And he must carry a rabbit’s foot in his pocket. And he probably throws about 10 pounds of salt over his shoulder each morning. If you can think of anything else that brings good luck, Starks probably does that too.
Last year, the Steelers placed the transition tag on Starks, and ended up paying him $6.9 million, even though he wasn’t able to win a starting position in training camp. Most fans thought that Steelers’ Director of Football Operation, Kevin Colbert, had lost his mind. How could he pay a backup more money than he was paying any of his STARTING offensive linemen? Heck, he was paying him more than he was paying his Pro Bowl running back, his Pro Bowl linebacker, his Pro Bowl nose tackle, or his Pro Bowl safety. That didn’t make any sense, did it?
Of course we all know that Marvel Smith ended up hurting his back (again), and Max Starks was called upon to fill in for Smith. Starks started at left tackle in the Super Bowl, and he went from being the butt of jokes to a hero in the Steelers championship run. How lucky can that guy be?
Well obviously he still has a little more luck to draw upon. Today the Steelers announced that they have placed the franchise tag on….(drum roll, please)………Max Starks.
The franchise tag basically means that Starks will be paid an average of the top 5 salaries at his position. So a guy who couldn’t even win a position at RIGHT tackle in camp is guaranteed to be paid like the top 5 left tackles in the NFL. Max Starks has to be the luckiest man in the world.
On both occasions, the Steelers’ hand was forced by the tenuous condition of Marvel Smith’s back. If Smith’s back hadn’t been an issue, Starks wouldn’t have gotten the transition tag last year, nor the franchise tag this year. Max Starks should buy Marvel Smith something very nice for Christmas.
By franchising Max Starks, the Steelers are all but announcing that they are not going to maintain Marvel Smith’s services (unless they can do so at a drastically reduced cost, which is unlikely). They cannot afford to go into another season with two highly paid and highly redundant left tackles on their roster.
The fact that Marvel Smith has missed 19 games over the past two seasons may scare other teams away from making him a large contract offer. However, reports have it that Marvel’s back is doing fine, and that he should be able to pass any team’s physical. Smith has always been a good left tackle when healthy. Good left tackles rarely hit the open market, so teams may bid on Smith’s services despite his history of back problems. If they do, then it’s bye-bye Marvel.
The franchise tag will prevent Starks from becoming an unrestricted free agent, and will guarantee him approximately $8.5 million in salary.
There are two types of franchise tags, “exclusive” and “non-exclusive”. “Exclusive” means that the player receiving the franchise tag cannot negotiate with other teams. “Non-exclusive” means that the player may negotiate with other teams, but if he signs with another team, his original team has the right to match the terms of that offer. If they choose to let the tagged player sign with another team, the team will be compensated with 2 first-round draft picks.
The tag that was placed on Starks was non-exclusive. Thus, the Steelers could potentially still lose Starks. However, they will now get two additional first round picks to soften the blow.
In a pure open market, I don’t think that Max Starks would have commanded as much money as he was paid last year. Moreover, I don’t think he could command as much money as the franchise tag now guarantees that he will be paid this year. Nobody would argue that Starks is one of the top 5 tackles in the NFL. He’s not. Yet, because of the Steelers’ situation with other offensive linemen, signing Starks was the right move in both cases.
Max Starks, you are the luckiest man in the world.
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