On The Steelers: Batch, Leftwich and Dixon ... Two, two many?
The picture seemed clear when Byron Leftwich, top, and Charlie Batch got off the plane in Tampa last month. But today?
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One surprise down. Could the Steelers have another up their sleeve by changing quarterbacks?
No, not that quarterback; his backup. It's assumed by many that Byron Leftwich will sign with a team that gives him a chance to start after he becomes an unrestricted free agent Friday. And it's assumed the Steelers then will re-sign Charlie Batch to be the backup again to Ben Roethlisberger.
That remains the likely scenario, and the Steelers have told Batch, also a UFA Friday, they want him back. But what if Leftwich decides he'd like to stay rather than roll the dice somewhere else? He's talking out loud about such a decision lately, and he's not fooling.
"That's always a possibility," Leftwich said the other day from Atlanta, where he has been working out since the Super Bowl. "The organization has been so good to me, man, and being able to have a chance to play under coach [Mike] Tomlin, it's the best football experience I had in my whole life.
"I'd be a fool to not acknowledge that. Yeah, it is possible because I had so much fun being with that organization."
Leftwich, 29, would like to become an NFL starter again and knows that won't happen with the Steelers, barring injury. He looks around at some of the sub-par quarterback play in the NFL and believes he's better than many.
All that does not mean there is a good situation out there for him. The New York Jets? Chicago? Minnesota? All need quarterbacks, all have histories of impatience with them. Even if Leftwich won the job with any of them, he might be back at No. 2 if he stumbled early.
"I'll sit down and have conversations with these teams and I have to pick the best situation for me," he said. "And I have to have in the back of my mind what I had with the Steelers -- a good football team, a great bunch of guys, a good coach and I enjoyed that. That's going to come into play when I make my decision."
Leftwich said winning the Super Bowl had nothing to do with it, although that certainly was a benefit.
"I really enjoyed it. I can say it so many times, it's not just because we won the Super Bowl, but being on that team and the way things are run the right way, as a player you appreciate that."
The Steelers have made no move to re-sign him or Batch. Batch has been a loyal backup since he signed as a free agent seven years ago. He has been a leader and helped win games during their previous Super Bowl season when Roethlisberger was hurt and has helped mentor him. After his injury in the preseason, Batch remained around the Steelers every day and wants to return. At 34, he is five years older than Leftwich.
If Leftwich decides he'd like to return to the Steelers, they have a decision to make. They drafted Dennis Dixon in the fifth round last season, hoping he could become No. 2 in a few years.
The more Max Starks plays hard to get and the more coaches show they do not want him, the more money he makes from the Steelers.
Starks made more in 2008 after he was demoted than he made in his previous five seasons combined. They guaranteed him nearly $7 million last year after his coaches promoted Willie Colon to take his job at right tackle. He did not win back his starting job last season and started only after Marvel Smith left with back problems.
Starks never got close to signing a long-term contract last year, so why should he do it now, especially since 2010 likely will be an uncapped year in the NFL?Making Starks the franchise player assures Smith will leave as a free agent.
Signing James Harrison to a contract extension won't come cheaply. The Oakland Raiders signed cornerback Nmandi Asomugha to a three-year contract worth either $40 or $45 million, depending on which report you believe. He's guaranteed to make at least $26 million in the first two years.
If a Pro Bowl cornerback can make that, what's the NFL defensive player of the year worth?
One thing that might hold the number down is that Harrison has a year left on his contract.
But he could easily surpass Troy Polamalu as the team's highest-paid defensive player by the time a new one is done.
First Published February 22, 2009 12:00 am