The Pittsburgh Steelers announced on Tuesday that they have signed starting left tackle Max Starks to a four-year deal that will free up some salary cap room for the team going forward.
Entering the offseason, the Steelers slapped the franchise tag on Starks ensuring that they would bring back a starter with some experience at a critical position. While Starks signed the franchise tender guaranteed to bring him $8.45 million in 2009, both he and the team were looking for a long-term solution.
Last season, the front office slapped the transition tag on Starks, bringing with it a one-year deal worth $6.9 million. However, the coaching staff didn't seem to be in agreement with his value as he started the season as a backup to Marvel Smith.
With Marvel Smith now in San Fransisco, and Starks having started the final 11 games, as well as the playoffs, the Steelers are showing a lot of faith in his abilities. The 27-year-old is now signed through the 2012 season and will look to solidify the left side of the line.
After signing his new contract, Starks was quoted as saying, "We now have guys you know are going to be here and you can count on, the guys who are rocks on the line. I am happy to hopefully be one of those rocks and not a pebble on that line."
At 6'8" and 345 pounds, a pebble he is not. The Steelers obviously are hoping that he can fit the bill as a boulder at the left tackle spot, keeping Ben Roethlisberger upright and cutting down on the number of hits he takes.
This move will also free up cap space for the team this year and over the next few seasons. Full financial details of the deal were not released, but it is believed that Starks will receive a signing bonus spread out over the length of the contract that will be slightly larger than the $8.45 million he was guaranteed under the franchise tag.
By lowering his annual salary, and only having to absorb a portion of the signing bonus this year, the Steelers will now have some breathing room to look at signing some other players who have the potential of becoming free agents at the end of 2009.
Several key members of the team are entering the final year of their contracts, and the Steelers have maintained that their top priority this offseason is signing their own players.
Perhaps the next move for the team will be to restructure a deal with Casey Hampton who is the rock in the middle of their 3-4 defense. Hampton has voiced his desire to remain with the Steelers and is open to signing a contract that will allow him to retire as a Steeler.
While the team is taking a risk with Starks by locking into his level of play, they are also solidifying the rest of their team by freeing up the money to keep the Super Bowl Championship-roster together beyond the 2009 season.