A year later, Marvel Smith has become the Alan Faneca of 2008, with a twist. Whereas both shared the same frustration a year apart over the lack of contract negotiations, each offensive lineman reacted differently.
Faneca reluctantly showed up for a mandatory minicamp, skipping one of those practices at that. He publicly expressed his displeasure, then boycotted the rest of the team's spring drills.
Smith, who as a left tackle started next to Faneca, continued to practice with the Steelers yesterday, even though they have not approached his agent about extending his contract, which ends after this season. He missed two weeks of workouts, but that was while his wife gave birth to their first child, a son, in California.
"To me, if it's going to happen, it's going to happen," said Smith, who has been a starter since he was the team's second-round draft choice in 2000. "It's not something I can worry about, for the most part. I love football. Any opportunity I get to play, whether it's in the offseason or not, that's what I plan on doing."
Whether he will do it beyond 2008 is in serious doubt. The Steelers have not yet talked to Ken Zuckerman, Smith's agent. If that name is not familiar, it should be known that he is a partner of Faneca's agent, Rick Smith, in Priority Sports & Entertainment. These guys represent some of the top offensive linemen in the NFL, and they know how to get value for their clients, especially as unrestricted free agents.
While guards have landed huge contracts in free agency recently, there have been few good left tackles available. The reason? They are considered so valuable that teams normally lock them up before their contracts run out. Smith, who turns 30 in August, could command more than Faneca next year on the open market. The New York Jets signed Faneca, 30, for five years, $40 million with $21 million guaranteed.
"Wouldn't Marvel be fun going to free agency with?" Zuckerman wondered.
Smith wants to stay, but has seen nothing from the Steelers that shows they have him in their plans beyond 2008. He said no one has talked to him about it, and Zuckerman has not talked to them, either.
"Yeah, it's frustrating, but I deal with it differently," Smith said, comparing his situation to Faneca's last year. "If I can't control it, I don't worry about it. It's not like I can give myself a contract."
Smith will earn about $4.5 million in salary and a roster bonus this season, or $2.5 million less than the team guaranteed Max Starks, one of his backups. The Starks contract mystery, in which they made him a transition player and guaranteed him $7 million this year, may contribute to their inability or hesitancy to sign Smith.
Faneca left Pittsburgh with his feelings hurt. He loved the city and the team, and he felt let down when the Steelers did not give him what he considered a fair-market offer.
Smith has the same kinds of feelings about his place here, except he holds out hope the Steelers might come through before the season starts with a contract extension offer he can accept. Once the season starts, Smith almost surely would become a free agent next March rather than re-sign after the season.
"There are a lot of similarities, I would say," Smith said, again comparing his situation to Faneca's. "Around this time of the year, we were both going through the same situation. It's my last year, really. I'm sure Alan wanted to stay here and finish his career; I'm the same way.
"I love Pittsburgh. I miss Pittsburgh when I'm not here in the offseason. It took a while to get used to Pittsburgh, coming from California, but now I love it."
So he continues to practice with his teammates and, for the most part, hold his tongue, which might become more difficult to do in August if he allows himself to think about things.
"I can't say how I'll feel about it a month from now," Smith said. "The more I think about it, the less good will come from it, so I don't worry about it."
• Santonio Holmes wants to know what happened to the 'off' in offseason.
• Also: Plaxico Burress is at Giants minicamp, but that doesn't mean he's working.
Coverage, Page C-5
Ed Bouchette can be reached at email@example.com . First Published June 12, 2008 4:00 AM