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Steelers

QB may not be position of depth in 2003

Jerry DiPaola
| Friday, Dec. 6, 2002

The Steelers' depth at quarterback should be the envy of the NFL.

With the salary cap putting restrictions on the number of veteran players teams can afford at any one position, the Steelers have three quarterbacks — Tommy Maddox, Kordell Stewart and Charlie Batch — who have totaled 141 starts.

Their total cost: A reasonable sum of $6.775 million, led by Stewart's $5.3 million. Director of football operations Kevin Colbert isn't a magician; it just looks that way.

Now, fast forward about two months after the 2002 season ends.

Maddox, who will regain his starting job Sunday against the Houston Texans after missing 2 1 / 4 games with spinal and cerebral concussions, will be the incumbent (barring a strange, unexpected set of circumstances in the last four games of the season). Stewart will be the No. 2 quarterback, with a cap value for 2003 of $7.92 million that will all but mandate his release or trade from the organization. Batch, whose one-year, $450,000 contract expires at the end of the '02 season, may be gone, too.

Goodbye, depth.

"It's a situation where you can go from being solid to being unsure," Batch said.

The Steelers have run a series of young quarterbacks in and out of their system in recent seasons — Jim Miller, Mike Quinn, Pete Gonzalez and Tee Martin most promiment among them. Miller, a starter with the Chicago Bears, and Quinn, the Texans' No. 3 quarterback, are still in the league.

Batch, who celebrated his 28th birthday yesterday, could be the next to leave.

"I can see myself here," he said, "but it will be a tough situation for me because I want to start and I want to play."

The Steelers surely will try to sign him to a new, long-term contract after the season. The problem: If Maddox returns to the lineup Sunday, resumes his outstanding play and leads the team into the playoffs, Batch's opportunities next year would be limited.

It's been proven by the past two games — in which Stewart led the Steelers to a 2-0 record in Maddox' absence — that teams need a dependable No. 2 quarterback. But romancing Batch to that idea will be difficult, considering he was a four-year starter with the Detroit Lions from his rookie season (1998) until last year. Free agency isn't scheduled to start until March 4, and the Steelers have exclusive negotiating rights until then.

Batch has been content as the No. 3, emergency quarterback with the Steelers this season, but he hasn't played in a game. Still, he's a competitor and knows he can play at a high level. Only a year ago, he threw for 345 and 338 yards in consecutive weeks and followed that with a career high 436 on Nov. 18 against the Arizona Cardinals.

He found himself out of a job because the Lions, who drafted quarterback Joey Harrington No. 3 overall this year, didn't release Batch until after June 1 for cap purposes, and his options were limited.

Working in the Steelers' favor is the fact that Batch is from Homestead, and signed with the Steelers because he admires coach Bill Cowher.

But it will be a seller's market for quarterbacks next year, with Batch and Jake Plummer of the Cardinals looking to become the only free-agent quarterbacks in the league with extensive starting experience. And Plummer, with a passer rating of 60.5 on a 4-8 team, is having a poor season.

"There are not many coming out," Batch said.

That's one of the reasons Batch was pleased to sign a one-year deal with the Steelers last June. He said he hasn't thought of the situation since training camp started, and the Steelers, according to their strict policy, do not talk contract with players during the season. Batch said the team hasn't approached him.

"There is a lot of season left," Batch said. "You don't know what's going to happen. Here, there is the anticipation of possibly seven, eight weeks left to play. There is no use talking about it right now. I'm sure they're talking about it upstairs. Down here (in the locker room), it just hasn't happened."

When the season ends, though, it may become a top priority.

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