Righting the wrongs

The new contract the Steelers gave Tommy Maddox last week, though not the $14-million windfall his agent claims, helps to right one of the team's wrongs. <br><br> Now the next step may be to correct one of the others.

Should we be surprised Hines Ward isn't happy Maddox was basically given an extra $2 million to play this season and he is expected to play out the contract he signed a couple of years ago? Absolutely not.

Ward's 2003 cap number of $2.173 million ranked 29th in the NFL, an appalling figure for a player considered one of the top five at his position.

Heck, luminaries such as Tim Dwight, Wayne Chrebet, Todd Pinkston, David Terrell and Travis Taylor were better compensated by their respective teams last season than Ward, who barely edged out Plaxico Burress as the highest-paid receiver on the Steelers. Burress was 30th in the league in compensation among wide receivers at $2.171 million.

So what are the Steelers to do, tear up the contract of every player on the team who feels he's underpaid?

Not exactly.

It's unlikely Ward would want to sign a deal such as Maddox's, which is cosmetic more than anything, considering he'll never see most of the money once Ben Roethlisberger takes over as the team's starting quarterback.

Though it was announced as much bigger contract, Maddox's deal is basically one that will pay him $3.8 million over next four seasons with signing bonus increasing it to $5.8 million, an average of $1.45 million annually.

While that's a lot of money to Joe Q. Public, it's chump change in the NFL.

The Steelers basically gave Maddox $2 million this season to keep the peace, something that shows Dan Rooney may be softening in his advanced years.

But don't expect the Steelers to make a similar effort with Burress, who unlike Maddox, chose skip the team's minicamp and other offseason workouts. Though he was ticked off at his pay - he made less than superstars such as Alex Van Pelt and Rohan Davey last season - he played the good soldier for the good of the team.

Burress, on the other hand, put himself before the team and will be dealt with in hard-line manner.

So where does that leave Ward?

Underpaid, but not under appreciated.

Look for the Steelers to re-work Ward's deal at some point within the next few months, adding a couple of more seasons to his deal and keeping him in Pittsburgh for the remainder of his career.

Like Jerome Bettis before him, Ward has become the embodiment of the Steelers and Rooney will treat Ward with the respect he's afforded Bettis, keeping the veteran around this season basically as a gesture of good will, even though it's at a reduced pay rate.

And unlike Maddox's deal, Ward's won't be a cosmetic one.

Though the Steelers have learned their lesson about giving big contracts to guys approaching 30 with the ill-fated Dewayne Washington, Chad Scott and Jason Gildon deals, they aren't about to let Ward walk away at the end of the 2005 season and will make the player who is not only their star receiver, but their superstar, happy.

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