Steelers should keep left tackle Smith
By John Harris
Saturday, May 17, 2008
Reading between the lines, it looks like the Steelers want to keep tackle Marvel Smith.
Smith isn't just any tackle. He's a left tackle, responsible for protecting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's blind side.
Tony Hills, the player drafted as Smith's potential replacement, missed half of his senior season with a fractured leg and is a bit of a project. Furthermore, Hills, a fourth-round draft pick, might end up being a right tackle.
Max Starks, another potential replacement for Smith, is a player who many NFL insiders believe is a serviceable backup and nothing more. If he were anything more, other teams would have made him a long-term offer, since there would be no compensation to the Steelers should he sign a deal.
The Steelers still lack depth at tackle -- Smith, Trai Essex and Starks (at least until he signs a long-term deal) all have one year left on their contracts, leaving the position uncertain for 2009.
Keeping Smith makes sense for the Steelers because he feels better physically than he has in years after undergoing back surgery. Smith, who turns 30 in August, should have several good seasons left. Left tackles have been known to play into their late 30s -- and well.
If the Steelers were planning on letting Smith go when he becomes an unrestricted free agent after next season, they probably would have drafted a tackle higher than the fourth round.
There is such a demand for tackles that teams reached for second-round projections Sam Baker and Duane Brown in the first round of the draft. A total of eight tackles were selected in the first round.
Since the Steelers don't negotiate contracts during the season, it would seem to be a priority for them to re-sign Smith this summer.
Smith's price tag will jump significantly after next season.
The Steelers probably could have signed guard Alan Faneca for $7 million a year (after all, they signed Starks for one year at $6.9 million), and he ended up making $8 million a year with the New York Jets.
That's nearly a 15 percent increase just for waiting 17 games.
Ironically, even though left tackle is considered the most important offensive line position, guards such as Faneca, Steve Hutchinson, Derrick Dockery, Leonard Davis and Eric Steinbach are the highest paid. That's because all of the good left tackles re-sign with their teams, which keeps the market price down, thereby allowing the top free-agent guards to make "tackle" money.
To give you an idea of how highly left tackles are valued, the New York Giants recently tore up David Diehl's old contract with three years remaining and gave him a six-year, $31 million extension.
If a good left tackle ever became a free agent, he could possibly command $10 million a year.
It's more economical for the Steelers to re-sign Smith than to pursue another team's free agent, who may be cheaper but not as good of a fit.