Steelers might be headed for another QB dilemma

The Pittsburgh Steelers have other things on their minds besides trying to make the playoffs over the final three games of the season. The most important: Who will be their quarterback, not for the rest of 2002, but for 2003 and beyond?

Tommy Maddox, who had been celebrated for lifting Pittsburgh's offense out of the doldrums with his accurate passing through the middle of November, may have had a sizeable flaw exposed over his past two games. He has big problems with a pass rush.


Maddox goes down too easily and he gets flustered into making poor decisions when under a heavy rush. Tennessee came at him hard on Nov. 17 and he made bad decisions and threw three interceptions before he was knocked out of the game and temporarily paralyzed. They trailed the Titans 28-7 when he left.


He returned to play this past Sunday and Houston blitzed him often, again forcing him into errors. He threw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns and lost a fumble without ever getting hit and that too was returned for a touchdown. He was sacked six times.


Suddenly, members of the organization are second-guessing their decision to back Maddox as their quarterback of the future and cut ties after this season with Kordell Stewart. If Maddox continues to play the way he has his past two games, their quarterback situation could be a mess.


Stewart is still quietly steaming at what was done to him this season. He made the Pro Bowl and his teammates voted him their MVP after he led them to a 13-3 season and a berth in the AFC championship game last year. But they made no attempt to sign him to a contract extension before this year after just three games, he was demoted in favor of Maddox, who had not started a game in 10 years.


All went well for Maddox and the Steelers until Nov. 17 in Tennessee. The Titans may have shown the rest of the NFL that Maddox can be rattled with a little pressure. He's big but he does not have great athletic ability and he goes down quickly.


They could go back to Stewart. He has one year left at a salary of $6.3 million. They desperately need that money, however, to get under next year's cap. There's little chance he will re-do his contract to give them cap relief because he'd rather get a fresh start somewhere else as far from Coach Bill Cowher as possible. He might stick around if they committed to him as their future starter and sign him to a contract that would include a bonus of $12 million or so, but that's not going to happen.


So, Stewart is gone. If Maddox keeps playing poorly, they have two other options: Re-sign Charlie Batch, their third-string quarterback on a one-year contract, or go get another veteran such as Bobby Hoying. Batch might come back if they promise to let him compete with Maddox for the job.


Either way, their future at the position is tenuous. They poured more than $70 million in signing bonuses over the past two years to keep the team together and they aren't sure right now what they have at their most important position.


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