Thursday, May 06, 2004

The Steelers, Tommy Maddox and the future
Currently the Steelers have four QBs on the roster but Bill Cowher made it clear that that won't be the case when final rosters are settled. Currently Tommy Maddox is the starter, Charlie Batch is the backup and Brian St. Pierre is the third QB. Of course there is the small matter of QB of the future, Ben Roethlisberger -- who's the reason for all this hand-waving and reshuffling.

Roethlisberger will in all likelihood be the starter in 2005. He'll probably be the third string QB this season which means that if Maddox is the starter, either Batch or St. Pierre is gone. Stan Savran made the point that if the Steelers cut St. Pierre they would effectively be wasting a fifth round pick (St. Pierre was drafted in the 5th round of the 2003 draft). That's a horrible reason to keep a player -- especially when you consider that a few years ago, WR Troy Edwards was a first round pick and by all accounts he was a bust -- no matter how long he stayed on the team. Savran also argues that getting rid of Batch will free up some cap room, but the guy is only scheduled to make $800,000 (with a $200,000 roster bonus), so it's not like you're getting rid of Peyton Manning's contract.

I think the safe bet is that St. Pierre will be cut and Batch will again be the backup this season. But Batch understands how this game works, and after the season there will be changes -- especially when you have a franchise QB waiting in the wings:
"You can't compete with money...You can compete with a player, but you can't compete with money. At the end of the day, the owner is going to come in and say, 'Why isn't my guy playing?'"
So the real question isn't who'll be around this season, but instead, who'll backup Roethlisberger in 2005 and beyond, assuming he's ready to start next season?

Batch is a few years younger -- and maybe better -- than Maddox and he might try to be a starter somewhere in 2005. Of course Maddox could use the same argument, but the problem is that when the NFL is seemingly inundated with good QBs, starting jobs are hard to come by. If you don't think so just ask Kerry Collins, Tim Couch, Kurt Warner, Vinny Testaverde, Jeff Blake and to a lesser extent Kordell Stewart (as an aside, here's an interesting story about Kordell -- still unsigned, but still looking).

A quick look around the league and you don't see many chances for a QB like Maddox to come in and start. I'm sure a lot of teams would be clamoring to have him as a backup, but to bring him as a starter would be a stretch (off the top of my head I can't think of one team that would rather have Maddox as their starting QB instead of the incumbent). His best bet, bravado aside, is to probably come back to the Steelers as Roethlisberger's mentor and the backup QB. [The Steelers should also reward Maddox by giving him a real contract. $750,000 for 2004 (even though they finally decided to rework it) is a joke. I don't care that he signed it fresh off his MVP stint in the XFL. He's a starter in the NFL and shouldn't make less than the backup]

Not only would he be valuable as a backup, but could conceivably do it for five or six more years. Maddox may prefer to take his chances in free agency or via a trade after the season, but I don't think it will get any better than what he has Pittsburgh. He's popular and the city is rabid about football -- he'd be hard-pressed to find that anywhere else.

Who knows, maybe Maddox will be lights-out in 2004 and win the starting nod in 2005. Just kidding (if you need a reason, just refer to Batch's quote above).