Pittsburgh Steelers: Max Starks Returns, but Not as a Starter?
The Pittsburgh Steelers re-signed Max Starks today, after the player announced on his twitter page. Starks was the team's starting left tackle last season before being cut in the off-season for financial and fitness issues.
During his last spell as a Steeler, Starks was easily the team's best pass blocking offensive lineman and started in two Super Bowl victories. He can play on both the left and right hand side of the line but is better suited to protect Ben Roethlisberger's blindside.
At 29 years of age, Starks should have a lot left in the tank now that he has been deemed fit enough to play on Sundays.
That is why it is with some confusion, that I welcome the news from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette which says Starks will not return as a starter.
In that very report, it is claimed that Starks is much closer to his playing weight of 345 pounds than he was when he was cut. Because he had been unable to work out during the off-season while recovering from a neck injury, Starks reported to camp at nearly 400 pounds.
Even if he was 400 pounds right now, he would probably be a better pass protector than Trai Essex was against the Houston Texans. Even Johnathan Scott, who I consider to be a decent player, is not anywhere near as talented as Starks.
While he may never have been an elite left tackle, he was good enough for the team to franchise tag even when he was a backup to Marvel Smith.
Starks would at the very least provide a true veteran starting on the offensive line. Right now the unit features Chris Kemoeatu and Maurkice Pouncey as their leaders. Kemoeatu can barely lead himself, while Pouncey is still only a second year starter.
The presence of Starks would solidify the offensive line and bring a certain level of composure to the group. Yet, for some reason, the Steelers coaching staff is once again not putting the team in the best position possible to succeed.
Many of the moves made by the Steelers this year have been questionable. While I would never argue that they were wrong, because obviously they are in better position to understand what is best for the team. From the outside looking in, a lot of things have been inexplicable.
Most of those moves were offensive line related. By far and away, the team's best guard in the preseason was Tony Hills as he, Doug Legursky and Chris Scott got auditions to impress. Hills was considered to be the team's most athletic offensive lineman, and on a team lacking offensive linemen, he never even made the roster.
This made little sense at the time and was compounded by the fact that he is both a better tackle and guard than Trai Essex ever has been. Even during his short exposure time on the field.
Re-signing Willie Colon wasn't a problem. However, overpaying him definitely was, especially with the risk of him landing on IR again. The Steelers overpaid Colon to the point that it prevented them from adding more quality depth to the opening day roster.
With the new NFL rules, Colon's numbers still count against the cap, therefore his big salary number is still handcuffing the team.
Before the Starks' re-signing, the team had $750,000 to spend under the cap. That was second worst in the NFL. It is easy to make these observations with hindsight, and generally I wouldn't complain about such moves, but even at the time spending money on a guy like Jerricho Cotchery appeared unnecessary.
Wide receiver was a position of strength, it has been all throughout the pre-season even with the injuries to Hines Ward and Emmanuel Sanders. There was absolutely no need for the team to bring in Cotchery as the their fifth choice receiver.
For one, the Steelers didn't open the season with a good enough line to consistently throw to five receiver sets. Secondly, the Steelers don't run with five receivers in those sets under Bruce Arians. Arians makes more use of the depth at running back and tight end for some unknown reason.
The Steelers have taken one step in the right direction bringing back their former starter at left tackle. However they have once again slipped backwards by not instantly inserting him into the starting lineup.
Even if he has bulked up, Starks has more value to the team starting at right guard than Ramon Foster. Foster has been a solid starting guard, he could even have been a better option at left tackle than Trai Essex considering he played tackle at Tennessee.
As with seemingly everything so far this season, the Steelers delighted me this morning, before disappointing me this afternoon.
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