Steelers will have trouble finding QB

That Tommy Maddox signed a bare-bones contract last season for back-up money bodes well for the Steelers' fiscal situation as they head into the 2003 season. <br><br> However, because of that base salary of $650,000 -- stunningly low for an NFL starting quarterback -- the Steelers will have a difficult time finding ...

... a veteran back-up at the position during the upcoming free-agency season, which begins Feb. 28.

Because of the impending release of Kordell Stewart, finding another quarterback is almost as high a priority for the Steelers in free agency as finding a starting safety. The Steelers don't believe a rookie safety would understand their defensive scheme well enough to help them win a championship, so they're hoping to find a veteran in free agency. Following that same line of thinking, the Steelers also realize they need to find a veteran quarterback, and one who'll sign cheaply.

Charlie Batch, of course, could be that man. He's a Pittsburgh native who has a season with the Steelers under his belt. He probably doesn't need much money either, since he received a $10 million signing bonus from the Detroit Lions prior to the 2000 season. But it's become obvious in this modern football era that money isn't the only factor that goes into a player's decision-making process this time of the year. There's the player's ego to be considered, and that sometimes can only be satisfied by both a fat contract and a starting position.

Perhaps Batch will weigh the pluses and minuses after a whirl around the free-agent circuit and decide to return to Pittsburgh at bargain-basement prices, but the Steelers aren't counting on it. They're looking at the list of potential free agents and the name that jumps out at them is New Orleans back-up Jake Delhomme.

A 28-year-old with only 86 passing attempts on his professional resume, Delhomme enjoyed his most significant playing time at the end of the Saints' 3-13 1999 season. Current Steelers quarterback coach Tom Clements was Delhomme's position coach at the time and he watched the 6-foot-2, 205-pounder start the final two games that season.

Delhomme completed 42 of 76 passes for 521 yards and rushed for 72 yards in those two games. He directed the Saints to a win over the Dallas Cowboys in his first start and was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week. But the Saints fired Coach Mike Ditka after the season, which forced Clements out of the organization. New Coach Jim Haslett then brought in free-agent quarterback Jeff Blake and traded for Aaron Brooks, who's currently the starter. Delhomme, a fan favorite ever since that 1999 stint, hasn't received much of a chance since.

Clements would certainly like to have Delhomme in Pittsburgh, but several other teams are also interested in him this off-season, and the Lafayette, La. native has publicly stated that he won't leave New Orleans to become a back-up elsewhere.

The Steelers will likely need to turn to a list of veterans headed up by 37-year-old Rodney Peete. Ford City native Gus Frerotte is also on the list, again, as are younger quarterbacks Shane Matthews and Doug Pederson, either of whom would give the Steelers what they need behind Maddox, just as long as they're willing to work for minimum wage.

-- Jim Wexell

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