The Future Of Quarterback

The future of quarterback Tommy Maddox with the Steelers could be determined either during the draft or immediately thereafter. <br><br>Maddox wants more money and is embarrassed by the $750,000 he is scheduled to earn in salary in 2004 on a contract he signed as a backup to Kordell Stewart before the 2002 season.

He was angry the Steelers did not bump up his deal before last season after he performed so well after replacing Stewart as the starter early in the 2002 season. He and his agent, Vann McElroy, claim that Dan Rooney promised last June that he would do something this February. They both say that Rooney then promised them he would do something after the draft.

Maybe he will. But maybe it won't be what Maddox has in mind, and if the two sides are far apart, this thing could explode. Say the Steelers draft Ben Roethlisberger in the first round with the 11th pick in the draft. There goes any kind of sizeable signing bonus for Maddox.

Why would they sign Maddox to big money if they draft Big Ben? They'd like to have Maddox start in 2004 and bring the rookie along slowly, but if Maddox would balk at the modest pay increase they would offer him, they could always turn to Charlie Batch as their starter.

The same scenario could come true if they don't draft a quarterback, although it becomes more unlikely. They probably would offer Maddox a more sizeable signing bonus. But what if it isn't to his liking? They still could turn to Batch and either let Maddox sit or trade him.

Maddox already earns less in salary than Batch, who will make a $1 million salary this year. Maddox said if the Steelers draft a quarterback "I could go into the season starting and being the THIRD-highest paid guy." That comment did not go over big in the front office.

"We'll wait until after the draft and kind of wait and get everything in order and try to talk to them again and see what happens," Maddox said. "The good thing is, I have a contract, I have a contract after this year. My focus is more on the season than it is on that."

DRAFT STRATEGY -- Pittsburgh seems poised to draft a quarterback in the first round for the first time in 24 years as long as either Philip Rivers or Ben Roethlisberger is there when they pick No. 11.

Many have them picking Rivers, but if they get a choice they would go with Roethlisberger. Rivers may be more polished now, but Steelers coaches and scouts think Roethlisberger has a much better upside and will ultimately be a better pro quarterback.

Don't believe anything you see that they will try to trade up from the No. 11 pick. They will not give up draft choices to move up because the Steelers feel they need more good young players, and they won't give that up for a quarterback.

It's more likely they would move down. One scenario has them trading with New Orleans to move down to 18th, receiving one of the Saints' second-round choices, No. 45 overall. If that were to happen, they'd likely try to take Arkansas offensive tackle Shawn Andrews at No. 18, Tusculum cornerback Ricardo Colclough at No. 44 and Virginia quarterback Matt Schaub at No. 48.

They have nine draft choices, three in the sixth round, and will look for an outside linebacker who played defensive end in college. They've had a run of success of those in past years, guys like Joey Porter, Jason Gildon, Carlos Emmons and Clark Haggans. They drafted Alonzo Jackson on the second round last year, figuring he would be ready to start at left outside linebacker in 2004, but he's considered more miss than hit.

What they really need, more than anything, is a shutdown corner and a right tackle. They've trotted a handful of cornerbacks into town the past two weeks and a few tackles, Andrews and Stanford's 6-7 Kirk Chambers.

Although they signed Duce Staley as a free agent from the Eagles and have Jerome Bettis back, the Steelers would love to add another running back. Drafting one in the second or third rounds is not out of the question, a guy like Michigan's Chris Perry.

The later rounds will be devoted to athletes that might help them on special teams and develop into regulars or backups. Pittsburgh might need a kicker because Jeff Reed hit a deep slump last year and then had hip surgery after the season.

The Steelers had only five draft choices last season and none helped them. First-round pick Troy Polamalu did not start a game, although he's down as the starting strong safety for 2004. Jackson might be a bust. They gave away their picks in the third and sixth rounds to move up in the first to draft Polamalu. Quarterback Brian St. Pierre did nothing and fullback J.T. Wall was on the practice squad.

They cannot afford to miss so badly two years in a row. They must get an impact player on the first round and find future starters in the second and third rounds. It's imperative they infuse their team with young talent.

With the draft so deep at wide receiver, they likely will try to get a speedster. They will need a receiver for 2005 because Plaxico Burress enters the final year of his contract and they don't believe they can re-sign him. Burress has underperformed but he won't accept that when it comes to a new contract.

TEAM NEEDS going into the draft -- Cornerback, offensive tackle, outside linebacker, quarterback.

CB -- They haven't had a true shutdown cornerback since Rod Woodson and Willie Williams last played for the team in 1996, and it's become their Achilles heel on defense. They adjusted their entire defense last season to make up for the weaknesses of their cornerbacks and it had a ripple effect on the pass rush and their whole attitude.

OT -- There is no starting right tackle. They tried Todd Fordham and Oliver Ross there last year and neither played well. Ross is the starter at the moment. They got into this predicament because they have not paid attention to the position in the drafts or drafted poorly.

OLB -- Unless Alonzo Jackson turns from ugly duckling into a swan overnight, there is no depth at one of the most important positions on the team. They never dreamed they'd have to start Clark Haggans at outside left, but that's what they are going to do in 2004. He's a good backup. Jason Gildon will be released after fruitless attempts to trade him. Joey Porter did not play well last season. There is nobody else.

QB -- Tommy Maddox and Charlie Batch could play quarterback on a team loaded with weapons. But Maddox turns 33 and the Steelers believe it's time to draft a quarterback. They haven't drafted one on the first round since 1980, when they took Mark Malone with the 28th and last pick in the first round, the draft after they won their fourth Super Bowl.

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