Pittsburgh Steelers: Team Report

Now that their rookie class is in the fold, the Pittsburgh Steelers won't be offering any more contracts to their players until after the season. That includes quarterback Tommy Maddox, who has been unhappy over the club's refusal to pay him like a starter.

Tackle Marvel Smith is the only veteran whose contract was extended. He had one year left on his rookie deal. The club signed him to a six-year, $26 million extension last month. Every other key starter is locked up at least through 2004.

Only two of their possible starters can become free agents next year - fullback Dan Kreider and safety Mike Logan, who likely will lose his job to rookie Troy Polamalu anyway. Halfback Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala is the only other player of note who can become an unrestricted free agent in 2004.

Their biggest decision was to not offer to rework the contract of Maddox, who will earn a $650,000 salary this season. Maddox, who turns 32 before the season opens, signed a five-year contract in June 2002 when he was the backup quarterback to Kordell Stewart. He received a $500,000 signing bonus for that.

Maddox became the starter by the fourth game and played reasonably well the rest of the way. However, the Steelers want to see one more season because they do not want to commit big-time money to someone who has played virtually one full season in the NFL over the past 10 years.

They also re-signed Charlie Batch as his backup. Two of their top front-office men were running the Detroit Lions when Batch played there - Kevin Colbert, their director of football operations, and Ron Hughes, their college scouting director. Those two men still believe in Batch's ability to play quarterback in the NFL.

It remains a touchy situation because the Steelers are primed to make another run at a Super Bowl title that has eluded Coach Bill Cowher in the past 11 years, and they will rely heavily on their passing game to get them there. Their offense has struck a balance between the run and the pass, but their strength has shifted more to the quarterback and receivers.

"We have the talent to win it all," said wide receiver Hines Ward, who broke the team's record for the second consecutive season by catching 112 passes.

Ward trusts that Maddox will be able to put his contract problems behind him now that training camp is here, along with the opportunities presented to the quarterback this season and in the future.

"Tommy traveled such a long path to get where he is now," Ward said. "I don't think he's going to allow anything to jeopardize that."

Coach Bill Cowher was instrumental in the decision not to redo Maddox's contract, although the player and his agent have not been told that. Both say Dan Rooney promised them the Steelers would do something about it after the season.

Cowher said he feels good about his quarterback situation with Maddox and Batch and subtly let everyone know that he would not hesitate to switch if Maddox underperforms.

"I think every year you have to prove yourself, there is no question about that. I like Tommy Maddox's perspective on things. There is no reason to believe that he is going to change as a quarterback, because he is going into this training camp as the starter. He earned the position as a starter a year ago. He earned the position because we were not getting consistent play.

"He also recognizes that how he earned his position is how someone else could earn their position. The bottom line is that you need to have consistent play. I like having Charlie Batch. I feel good about Charlie. He has played in this league at a high level. He has won football games and it is good to have another veteran guy."

Kordell Stewart entered training camp a year ago as the solid starter following a Pro Bowl season and being voted MVP of his team. After three games, he lost his job.

CAMP CALENDAR: The Steelers reported to training camp Friday and held practice for the first time on Sunday. Their last practice at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa. is Aug. 19. They will hold seven two-a-days.

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