By Teresa Varley
The Steelers did not want to enter free agency with both of their left tackles unrestricted, so on Thursday they placed the franchise tag on Max Starks.
Starks started the last 14 games this season, including the post-season, after Marvel Smith was sidelined with a back injury.
Putting the tag on Starks was the first step to keep him in the black and gold, something both sides want.
"He was a big part of our success last year and looking at the free-agent class, we felt this was one player we needed to keep," said director of football operations Kevin Colbert. "We thought it was the right thing to do at the time in free agency to make sure we secured an important player.
"We want to try and do something that is in the long-term interest of him and the team. That's everybody's intention. That's our intention."
Starks, a third round draft pick in 2004, has started 45 games in his first five seasons with the team.
Smith, who was eventually placed on injured reserve, will be an unrestricted free agent but the tag on Starks doesn't rule out bringing Smith back.
"Will one signing affect the other? Yes," said Smith. "Does it mean he will be out? No. I hate to say securing one player should mean the end of another player, only because we don't know what will happen over the next three weeks of free agency."
With the franchise tag Starks would receive the average salary of the top five at his position. If he signs with another team, the Steelers would receive two number one draft picks in return.
Starks, though, wants to be back.
"That is what we are working on now, trying to work on something along those lines," said Starks. "We are trying to work something out. We agreed on the franchise tag and are hoping to agree on something long term."
Last year the Steelers placed the transition tag on Starks, even though he entered the season as a back-up. It paid dividends after he was moved into the starting lineup.
"With the injury to Marvel and Max stepping up and becoming the starting left tackle, we think he proved he can do that job," said Colbert. "I think there is a difference between last year and this year."
Starks, who only started in four games in 2007 when Smith was injured, is hoping that he has proven himself with the role he played this season en route to the team winning Super Bowl XLIII.
"I thought I had a lot to offer this team," said Starks. "I am glad I had an opportunity to help us get the sixth one. It meant a lot to me personally. You always wonder about yourself and how people think about you. To be able to go out there and help the Steelers organization, Mr. Rooney and the city of Pittsburgh get the sixth Lombardi was very important."