Team Report

Quarterback Tommy Maddox was supposed to meet with Steelers president Dan Rooney this past week to talk about getting more money this season, but the meeting never happened for one reason and another.<br><br> When it does, it should be a doozy.

Rooney would like to give Maddox a boost in pay so he can avoid the embarrassment of making less money than his backup, Charlie Batch. Maddox will earn a $650,000 salary this season, plus $75,000 in workout/roster bonuses. Last month, Batch signed a two-year contract that pays him $1 million this year and $1 million next year. Although his $1 million in 2003 included a $470,000 signing bonus, he still earned more money than Maddox.

Maddox actually could rank No. 3 among quarterbacks in pay this year if the Steelers draft one in the top three rounds on Saturday. He signed a five-year contract last June when he was a backup to Kordell Stewart and received a $500,000 bonus to do so. Maddox was thrilled with the deal at the time. After all, the Steelers were the only team willing to give him a chance in 2001 after earning the MVP award of the now-defunct XFL.

At the time Maddox said, "When they came and said they'd like to extend my contract, and looking back to where I was not even a year ago but 2 1/2 years ago, the only thing that would be better is the Kurt Warner story because he started a Super Bowl and won."

His perspective has changed after playing one good season as their starting quarterback. First off, the $650,000 salary for a starter is embarrassingly low. Adding the insult of being the second and possibly third quarterback at the payroll window really hurts the ego.

Now, take a look at it from the Steelers point of view. Maddox had done virtually nothing in the league since he was Denver's No. 1 pick in 1992 and did not play at all for five years in the NFL. Then he went out last season and did a nice job. But what if he cannot repeat that? What if he is injury prone? What if, after studying him in the off-season, defensive coordinators find weaknesses in his play that they exploit in 2003?

The Steelers were burned twice after giving contact extensions to quarterbacks in the 1990's. They did it for Jim Miller before he even became the starter, and then he was demoted at halftime during his first start. And they did it with Kordell Stewart when he had two years remaining on his 1999 contract.

There is one way around this, and Rooney seems willing to do it. Maddox earned more than $400,000 in incentive bonuses last season. They could convert those to salary in 2003. That would put his pay above $1 million, more than Batch. The big stumbling block to that strategy is that Maddox and his agent Vann McElroy probably won't think that is enough. They want a bigger boost than that.

Coach Bill Cowher is the one who is most leery of giving Maddox more money. He wants to see him do it for one more season before making the commitment. After all, they have Batch and they believe he could become their starter if Maddox falters. And Maddox is already under contract through the 2006 season. Where's he going to go?

Maddox won't hold out; he's much smarter than that. He may pout a little bit, but that won't stop him from performing. Anyway, if his performance slips they won't hesitate to go to Batch.

That puts Maddox in a corner. The one person he has on his side, though, is Dan Rooney. Rooney has long been known for doing the right thing with his players. Before the advent of the salary cap, he would award them performance bonuses even if they had not quite reached them. Rooney wants to give Maddox more money - he just cannot give him as much as he wants.

If Maddox is smart, he'll take the extra money with a promise that if he turns in another good season, he'll get a healthier boost in 2004.

The Steelers focused on defensive backs when they sent out invitations to prospects, particularly safeties, for visits to their facility over the past three weeks.

The player they would love to draft is Southern Cal safety Troy Polamalu, but they're not quite sure he will still be available when they pick at No. 27. That's why a trade to move up in the first round is a possibility for them.

This isn't a team that needs to restock, so giving up a third-round pick to move higher and get their man would make sense. Kevin Colbert, their director of football operations, has always believed in making a trade to go after a particular player, even though he has not done that in the first round since he joined the Steelers in 2000.

They did it in the second round of the 2001 draft to get linebacker Kendrell Bell, and it turned into a blockbuster pick for them.

Many mock drafts have them taking Florida quarterback Rex Grossman, but after they finished up their player "readings" last week, they came to the conclusion that drafting Grossman with the 27th pick might be a reach. However, offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey loves Grossman and that could help tip the scales.

One thing they also have discussed is drafting a running back with Penn State's Larry Johnson the possible target. If they do draft a runner in the first round, they will release Jerome Bettis. But, despite some Internet reports, they are not unhappy with The Bus' progress this year after knee surgery and his conditioning program.

TEAM NEEDS: Safety, cornerback, pass rusher, quarterback.
S - Lee Flowers will be gone and they'll be looking for a swifter man to play the position.

CB - The Steelers slipped to 20th in pass defense last season and would like to groom someone to replace Dewayne Washington by 2004 and play in their dime defense this season.

Pass rusher - Although they rang up 50 sacks last season, they were not happy with the pressure they put on the quarterback from the right side in the dime defense.

QB - The last young quarterback they developed was Kordell Stewart. Now is a good time to bring someone in because they have the luxury to allow him to play behind Maddox/Batch for a few years.

-The agent for safety Sammy Knight finally received a phone call from the Steelers last week. Knight, a free agent from New Orleans, visited Pittsburgh April 9 but no talks took place until April 16. It's possible they could try to sign him before the draft. More likely, it would come afterward, depending on what players they pick.

- The Steelers will open Heinz Field for a day-long draft festival April 26 from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Various activities will take place, including tours of the Steelers locker room, the Steelers Experience, Steelers autographs, face painting, and live entertainment. There will be prize giveaways. TV coverage of the draft will be shown on the stadium Jumbotron. Cost is $10 for adults and $5 for those 12 and under at the Steelers Game Day ticket office starting at 10 am. Parking is $3.

- All four restricted free agents have agreed to sign their one-year tenders of $605,000 to return to the Steelers: NT Kendrick Clancy signed, while FB Dan Kreider, CB Hank Poteat, and LB Clark Haggans are expected to officially sign before the draft. Kreider is the only starter and Haggans, who had 6.5 sacks as a situational rusher, is the only one of the four to make a visit to another team, Houston.

- The Steelers are $1.2 million under the salary cap and will need to either make another move (such as cut TE Mark Bruener) or redo another contract or two.

- All but two players have reported for the off-season workouts that began last Monday: RB Jerome Bettis, who's working out with Bob Kersee in Los Angeles and LB Joey Porter.

"I don't sit here saying we got to get faster. To me, faster's not always better." - Kevin Colbert on the state of the Steeler secondary.



UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: TE John Allred (not a priority); S Lee Flowers (they will not try to re-sign him); LB Mike Jones (they aren't interested in him); WR Terance Mathis (unlikely to return); P Tom Rouen (an injury replacement who won't be back).

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: DE Clark Haggans (tendered at $605,000); FB Dan Kreider (tendered at $605,000); CB Hank Poteat (tendered at $605,000).


PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: QB Charlie Batch (UFA; $2M/2 yrs, $470,000 SB); DT Kendrick Clancy (RFA; $605,000/1 yr); TE Matt Cushing (UFA; $530,000/1 yr; 2003 cap: $450,000); TE Jerame Tuman (UFA: $3.3M/3 yrs, $600,000 SB; 2003 cap: $730,000); OG Keydrick Vincent (Potential ERFA; $375,000/1 yr).

PLAYERS ACQUIRED: OT Todd Fordham (UFA Jaguars; $2.4M/3 yrs, $470,000 SB); LB Clint Kriewaldt (UFA $2.38M/3 yrs, $420,000 SB; 2003 cap: $670,000); TE Jay Riemersma (FA Bills; $3.95M/3 yrs, $850,000 SB).

PLAYERS LOST: TE Marco Battaglia (UFA Dolphins; 1 yr, terms unknown); OT Wayne Gandy (UFA Saints; $25M/6 yrs, $5M SB); PK Todd Peterson (cut); QB Kordell Stewart (cut).

MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.

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