Steelers' plans for Starks a mystery
Max Starks isn't any more certain of where he stands with the Steelers than he was last season when he lost his starting job at right tackle to Willie Colon, a move that the fourth-year veteran called "unjustified."
"I don't know if they have me in their long-term plans," said Starks, who has been working out in Arizona because he is not under contract with the Steelers. "That's one thing I'm trying to find out: Am I part of their grand scheme, because I don't think I was last year."
The Steelers have indicated that they consider Starks a part of their future.
They made the 26-year-old lineman a one-year tender offer worth $6.9 million in late February. The team was required to do so after putting the transition tag on Starks, who would have been an unrestricted free agent. But director of football operations Kevin Colbert has said both sides are working toward a contract extension.
Starks, however, hasn't seen any indication that a new deal with the Steelers is forthcoming.
"It's a standstill right now," Starks said of contract negotiations. "It's totally up to them."
Indeed, the Steelers have all of the leverage in regard to Starks, even though he could make the average salary of the top 10 highest-paid offensive linemen in 2007 despite serving mainly as a backup last season.
The Steelers have the option of pulling the one-year tender offer they made to Starks, even if he signs it, until the middle of July. By using the transition tag on Starks, they effectively bought more time to negotiate while also retaining the right to match any other offer that is made to the former University of Florida standout.
While it may have been a sound business decision for the Steelers, their use of the transition tag still caught Starks by surprise.
"I couldn't be upset about it, but I definitely did not understand it," said Starks, who added that he hasn't attracted serious interest from any other team. "It was one of those things where we had had a conversation and it was like, 'OK, you can go into free agency, just keep us in mind.' Then I received this tag a week before free agency, so that pretty much scared all the teams off."
Starks served a valuable role for the Steelers last season, starting four games at left tackle when Marvel Smith was sidelined with back problems. The 6-foot-8, 337-pounder also played tight end in short-yardage situations and was on the special teams' kick-block unit.
Although he never publicly criticized the team for his demotion -- he had started the previous two seasons at right tackle -- Starks never understood it, either.
"Nobody ever gave me a reason how or why I lost my job," Starks said. "I wondered (if) it was because I got injured the year before• There were just questions that were left unanswered."
The Steelers' recent agreement on a two-year contract with center Justin Hartwig raised more questions about Starks' future in Pittsburgh because it minimizes the chance that the team will move Colon to guard.
Starks said he wants to stay with the Steelers, but he made it clear that he sees himself as a starter.
"Obviously, nobody wants to be the backup," Starks said, "and I started for two years, and I did not plan on being a backup this early in my career."
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