The 2012 free agency period is getting ever so close so we will continue on with our player by player look at the Pittsburgh Steelers 2012 Free Agents. We are well into our analysis of the Steelers unrestricted free agents and now continue forward with that group by taking a look at tackle Max Starks. Check the links at the bottom of the post to see the other Steelers free agents that we have already covered, both restricted and unrestricted.
Player: Max Starks
Position: Left tackle
Experience: 8 Years
Free Agent Status: Unrestricted
2011 Salary Cap Hit: $2,619,000.00 ($2,000,000 dead money)
2011 Season Breakdown: Starks was released by the Steelers right before the start of training camp as it was rumored that he gained quite a bit of weight while trying to recover from the neck injury that forced him to miss most of the second half of the 2010 season. The release was a bit of a surprise, even though the Steelers had drafted Marcus Gilbert to be the heir apparent to Starks a few months earlier. The release cost the Steelers a $4 million dead money hit against the cap that they were able to split over 2 seasons because he was released after June 1st. They started the season with Jonathan Scott as their starting left tackle and that did not go well at all.
Starks was resigned after the Steelers loss to the Houston Texans in week 4 and the Steelers wasted no time handing him back the starting left tackle spot against the Tennessee Titans in week 5. Starks played well in that game as his adrenaline was through the roof and it ended up being his best game of the season. He went on to start every game from there on out and had his share of good, bad and average games. Starks struggled the most in the games against the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers as Tamba Hali and Aldon Smith were just too much for him. In those two games alone he allowed 8 pressures and fortunately just 1 sack. On the season he allowed 6 sacks in total with 1 of those coming in the AFC Wild Card game against the Denver Broncos. On the flip side, Starks handled Terrell Suggs of the Baltimore Ravens well as he always seems to rise to the occasion against him.
While Starks is not known as a premier run blocker, he did not get too many opportunities to show what he could on his side much in 2011 as the Steelers were a heavy right handed run team. The effort was always there though with him, even when the run was away from his side. He uses his hands well in pass protection and showed he could still win races to the edge. Where he struggled the most in that part of his game was when he would go against teams that had good right side twist and stunt techniques. You have to remember though that Starks did not have much help to his right all season as the left guard spot was a merry go round all year. This really manifested itself against the 49ers as Trai Essex was not much help to Starks against Aldon and Justin Smith, one of the best right side tandems in the league right now.
Starks did show several times last season that he can still drop the anchor when he gives ground initially off of the snap and he can still recover if he has not lost the angle. His foot work remained solid for the most part, as did his technique. He was far from awful once he was brought back and his return surely seemed to stabilize the line. Unfortunately he tore the ACL in his right knee in the first half of the Wild Card game and underwent surgery after the season ended.
Free Agency Outlook: Starks is an unrestricted free agent and his first course of action is to get back healthy. He is handicapped by the calendar right now as his injury happened at the end of the season. There is no doubt that he still wants to try to play again, but with the Steelers now set to move Gilbert over to the left side, Starks at best should expect a swing tackle role if the Steelers even want him back once he is healthy. It seems a stretch to think he would be resigned before the start of training camp, as he would be pushing it to be 100% healthy by then. The most likely scenario would be that he sits near the phone should the Steelers need him once the season begins, pretty much like what happened last season. He will count $2 million against the Steelers salary cap in 2012 as the last part of proration from his release is due this year. That money has long been paid out to Starks and it is just part of the business. Starks was a great presence in the locker room and that will surely be missed. As we sit here in late February it is hard to see him wearing the black and gold next season, but things and injuries happen. I could think of worst swing tackles that the Steelers could have on their roster next year, and one of them actually still is on their roster right now in the form of Scott.
Other 2012 Steelers Free Agent Player Analysis
Mike Wallace - Restricted Free Agent
Keenan Lewis - Restricted Free Agent
Doug Legursky - Restricted Free Agent
Ramon Foster - Restricted Free Agent
David Johnson - Restricted Free Agent
Ryan Mundy - Restricted Free Agent
Jamon Meredith - Restricted Free Agent
Jerricho Cotchery - Unestricted Free Agent
Mewelde Moore - Unestricted Free Agent
Byron Leftwich - Unestricted Free Agent
Charlie Batch - Unestricted Free Agent
Dennis Dixon - Unestricted Free Agent
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