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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Keep or curb Max Starks

The new coaching staff of the Pittsburgh Steelers has a busy schedule, studying the team’s current roster, readying for the draft and settling itself in Pittsburgh.

With that in mind, we’ve decided to help them out a little by breaking down the team’s free agents and whether they fit into the team’s future plans or should be allowed to look for work elsewhere.

Next up on our list is right tackle Max Starks, a restricted free agent.

The only starter from this year’s team who is eligible to be a free agent, Starks could be someone opposing teams target among Steelers players.

At 6-8, 337 pounds, you’d expect Starks to dominate opponents with his sheer size. But more often than not, Starks’ size seems to work against him. He has trouble with outside speed rushers and just seems to lack overall consistency.

You could certainly make the argument that Starks is young and still has plenty of upside. At 25, he’s still maturing as a player and is young enough that he could play another 10 years. That alone could be intriguing considering he’s already got two years experience as a starter and has already started a Super Bowl.

But Starks has also had knee problems in back-to-back seasons, something that forced him to miss the team’s final two games of 2006. That opened the door for rookie Willie Colon to start the final two games and he played well enough to show the team it has other options at right tackle other than Starks.

And considering Starks’ size, you have to wonder if the knee problems won’t become a serious issue for him on down the line.

The guess here is that the Steelers will tender him with a mid-level offer to retain the first right of refusal to match any offers for him on the free agent market. That means if another team signs Starks and the Steelers choose not to match the offer, they would receive a third-round pick in exchange.

If Starks doesn’t get any offers, they’ll bring him back and let him play another season before making a long-term offer. He may have to go to camp with Colon pushing him hard this year, something that could bring out the best in Starks.

Considering what the Steelers have invested in him thus far and the position he plays, as long as he doesn’t receive an outlandish offer, he’s worth bringing back for at least another year. The Steelers have to find out what they have in Starks. And even if, by chance, he is beaten out by Colon, you can’t have enough offensive line depth.

Verdict: Keep him.

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