Maddox has little contract, and smaller leverage

PITTSBURGH: Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox has a little contract, and even smaller leverage. <br><br> Maddox has been denied a raise by the Pittsburgh Steelers, and he's between a rock and a hard place in doing anything about it.

Maddox will earn $650,000 in base salary this season, which should make him the lowest-paid starting quarterback in the NFL. He'll also be among the lowest-paid starters in Pittsburgh, except for players still working on their rookie contracts.

What's worse, backup quarterback Charlie Batch will take in more money this season with $1 million in salary and bonuses. Batch's presence - he re-signed with them after his one-year contract expired - also is preventing Maddox from doing anything drastic to entice the Steelers to give him a little more money.

Maddox cannot hold out because Batch would step right in and replace him. He cannot even speak out because it would hurt his squeaky-clean image in Pittsburgh. Maddox gave Steelers fans something to cheer about after many had turned sour on Kordell Stewart. Then, when Maddox overcame a spinal cord injury in Tennessee last season, he strengthened his standing among the fans.

The NFL Comeback Player of the Year recently announced a charity foundation in his name. He's the darling of Steelers fans right now and he does not want to do anything to spoil that. He also realizes he was nowhere until Pittsburgh gave him a chance in the summer of 2001, the only NFL team willing to do so. In that sense, he does not want to appear ungrateful by complaining about money.

He was hoping Dan Rooney would "do the right thing" and boost his pay. There was a meeting with Rooney and the Steelers president seemed amenable to giving Maddox more money. However, coach Bill Cowher and director of football operations Kevin Colbert reportedly talked him out of it.

Of course, Maddox signed the contract that has left him so poorly paid relative to other NFL starting quarterbacks, and he did it less than a year ago. With one year left on the two-year contract he signed in 2001, he signed a new five-year deal last June. It paid him a $500,000 signing bonus and averaged less than $1 million annually over the deal. Maddox was the backup to Stewart at the time, but that's not even good backup money spread out over that long of a term.

Why would he lock himself in for five years for only $500,000? Because he had sold insurance for 2 1/2 years when he was out of football, and because he and his agent believe promises were made when they signed that deal in June. They believe the Steelers told them if Maddox became the starter they would reward him for it.

Some reward. Maddox did earn an extra $400,000 in incentives last year that he presumably will make again in 2003 if he remains the starter. He also makes $75,000 in roster/workout bonuses. That puts him at $1,125,000, and that's still peanuts compared to almost every other NFL starter. If he's hurt for long, he won't come close to that. Plus, Batch has the same incentives written into his contract.

The Steelers want to see Maddox, 31, do it for one more season and if he does, they likely then will rework his deal to give him more money. That's not much consolation for Maddox at the moment. Batch is allowing them to do that. Without Batch, the Steelers would have no leverage. They drafted Brian St. Pierre of Boston College on the fifth round, but don't expect him to make a quick impact.

It's a bit of a gamble on the Steelers' part because they don't want to have their starting quarterback in a snit over his embarrassingly low pay. On the other hand, it's not Maddox's style to openly complain, even privately to teammates. He's come too far to allow such a thing to drag him down. He also knows Batch is breathing down his neck if he makes a misstep.

There's not a whole lot Maddox can do about it except one big thing: He could build off what he did last season, on and off the field, and he could help the Steelers to a Super Bowl. Now that would force them to give him more money next season.

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