Starks prepared to part ways with Steelers

Steelers offensive tackle Max Starks during practice on the South Side Sept. 5, 2012.

By Mark Kaboly
Published: Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Max Starks planned on spending a football-free weekend at Churchill Downs with his stylish tan fedora hat perched on top of his head and enjoying his first Kentucky Derby.

Well, the football-free part of the weekend didn't actually go as planned.

Starks had a “couple of conversations” over the weekend with a few NFL organizations, including a brief telephone conversation with the Steelers, and is anticipating getting a deal done with a team before organized team activities kick off around the league in two weeks.

One thing has become clear to Starks over the past couple days: He won't return for a 10th season with the Steelers.

When the Steelers added veteran tackle Guy Whimper on Monday, it signified the end of Starks' time with the Steelers, or that's how Starks viewed it.

“Let me say this, (Starks and the Steelers) had a conversation prior (to the Whimper signing), and that decision (to sign Whimper) was made after our conversation,” Starks said.

“Now it wasn't said directly to me, but you kind of take that as an indication of what they are thinking. It is not so much on my part as more of them wanting to move on.”

Unlike the two previous times the Steelers appeared to part ways with Starks — right before training camp in 2011 and again following the season that year — this one likely will stick for a couple of reasons.

• The Steelers are comfortable and feel the need to move forward with recent consecutive-year second-round picks Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams at both tackle spots.

• Unlike years past, Starks isn't coming off an injury, making him a valuable commodity.

“(The Steelers) feel that age is the greatest indicator,” Starks said. “Of course, I don't believe that.”

The best-case scenario for the Steelers always was to sign Starks to provide depth and experience at a position where it is greatly needed.

After the starting five offensive linemen, the Steelers' 10 backups on the 90-man roster have 27 career starts with 22 of them coming from Whimper. Seven of the 10 backups are either rookies or first-year guys with all of them being undrafted.

At 31 and feeling “the best I've felt over the past five years,” Starks doesn't view himself as a backup.

“After playing 100 percent of the snaps the previous year, I don't think I am, at this point, ready to be a backup swing tackle guy just yet,” Starks said. “I have proven over the past couple years that I am still starter-capable.”

Starks started 96 games since being the third-round pick of the Steelers in 2004. Starks played all 1,086 offensive snaps last year —the only player on the team who did — despite coming off a torn ACL nine months prior.

“They want Marcus and Mike to start, and I understand that,” Starks said. “Anywhere I go, as long as I have the opportunity to compete for the starting job, I am happy. I don't want to come in and them say that I am just a backup for depth purposes. If you give me the opportunity to compete on an even basis, I am more than happy.”

Starks visited the Chargers on Wednesday, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. Starks also didn't rule out coming back to the AFC North. With Cincinnati re-signing Andre Smith to go along with veteran Andrew Whitworth and Baltimore bringing back Bryant McKinnie to pair with Michael Oher, that leaves only Cleveland.

“There is a lot of interest out of there,” Starks said. “It is definitely heating up.”