The Steelers recently came in at 9th on Yahoo.com’s list of “10 Worst Moves (and non-moves) of the NFL Off Season.”
Their sin, according to Mike Florio, is not franchising Alan Fanaca.
Florio brings up a very interesting point. Why spend just under seven million dollars to transition Max Starks, a man whom Mike Tomlin has decribed as “starter capable,” when they could have kept a legitimate All Pro for only a half million more (pocket change in today’s NFL).
The poor play of the offensive line over the last two years makes this a no-brainer in Florio’s view.
But would franchising Fanaca have been the right thing to do?
The answer is no, even though we already know Fanaca is better than whoever takes over the left guard spot.
The Steelers don’t operate that way. Fanaca was unhappy in Pittsburgh and wanted out and, generally speaking, the Steelers don’t try to force players of Fanaca’s character to stay against their will.
Beyond that, Steelers always tie big money to long-term contracts. Fanaca would have excelled for another year, and then he’d have been gone. They thought (and claim they still think) they can agree to a long-term deal with Starks. An agreement for a multi-year contract during training came might be unrealistic, but perhaps such an accord can be reached prior to free agency’s start in 2009.
Finally, franchising Fanaca would have been a short-term solution to a long-term problem. Chris Kemoeatu is the heir apparent at left guard. Coaches insist that he’s ready. Yet Kemoeatu has proven nothing.
If Chris Kemoeatu delivers as advertised, there’s no guarantee that the Steelers can keep him off the market in 2009, but they’ll be able to make an informed decision. If Fanaca stays, Kemoeatu sits and the Steelers never learn if he’s a player or not.
The other side of Florio’s argument, that transitioning Starks was a mistake, has more merit. Regular readers of this blog know that Steel Curtain Rising is guilty of some equivocation when it comes to Max Starks. The Starks situation is so confusing because Starks play has been so inconsistent. He was good enough to start all the way through the Super Bowl in his second year, yet by the end of the next season Willie Colon was pushing him out of the starting lineup. Yet, he was impressive in relief of Marvel Smith at the end of 2008.
The Steelers have made s risk reward move. If Starks ends up as nothing more than a 7 million dollar third offensive tackle, they’ll look pretty dumb. If Starks services are needed at left tackle should Smith get hurt, or right tackle should Colon falter and/or need to move to guard, they’ll look pretty smart.