Steelers Sign Another Offensive Lineman Long Term

Jonathan Cyprowski@@JCyprowskiCorrespondent ISeptember 9, 2009

PITTSBURGH - JANUARY 11:  (L-R) Heath Miller #83, Willie Colon #74, Carey Davis, #38, Darnell Stapleton #72, Justin Hartwig #62 and Max Starks #78 of the Pittsburgh Steelers break the offensive huddle against the San Diego Chargers during their AFC Divisional Playoff Game on January 11, 2009 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Steelers won 35-24.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

The Steelers re-signed another Offensive Lineman today. Bringing the running tally up to four since February.

I bet you can’t name them all right now. Better yet I dare you to post a comment right this second and name four of the five starters going into Thursday without looking.

Go ahead I’ll wait…

Chris Kemoeatu, Max Starks, Trai Essex and now Center Justin Hartwig (who missed most of camp with a broken toe) have all been given contract extensions during the “off and pre-seasons.”

The soon to be 31 year old Hartwig received a new four year contract that keeps him under wraps until 2012. Avoiding unrestricted free agency looming after the 2010 season, Hartwig was one of the few Steelers to start every game last season while injuries plagued the Offensive Line.

His most memorable moment came in Super Bowl XLIII against the Arizona Cardinals. His holding penalty in the endzone during the fourth quarter scored a safety for the Cardinals. Giving them two points and the ball back. Setting up the drive that Arizona would take a 23-20 lead on. The penalty negated a first down catch by Santonio Holmes that would have all but sealed the game for the Steelers.

Avoiding “Scape-Goat” status Hartwig helped the team on the game winning drive, and the rest is history.

Now tell me this, how is it wise to reward a group of players that more closely resembled swiss cheese than an Offensive Line with long term contracts?

Max Starks was given top tier money to play Tackle over the off-season and he struggled to make the starting lineup after having one good season. His new four-year $26.3 million contract included $10 million in guaranteed money.

Kemoeatu signed a five-year deal worth $20 million, including six million in guaranteed money and a four million dollar signing bonus. While Kemoeatu seems to have the most upside out of the group, a great deal of cap space has been tied up in order to keep an Offensive Line together that most would call average at best. 

While many in Steeler Nation become angry at the first inclination of someone questioning the team or their possible success, I feel obliged to play the devil’s advocate here my friends.

Add up the injury prone nature with which this present group has operated in recent past with the combined amount of cap room tied up in salaries for that same group, and the current situation could equal a major problem over the course of the next four to five years.

While there is such a thing as high-risk high-reward, this Offensive Line has a lot of improving to do if the Steelers hope to get a reasonable return on their investment. And it all starts with staying healthy enough to be on the field this season.