Steelers to 'make a run' at Faneca, Starks

The Pittsburgh Steelers understand what it takes to remain an elite team, so they're not about to let Alan Faneca and Max Starks walk out the door without trying to keep them. Read what the front office has in mind.

PITTSBURGH – The Steelers don't expect the season to end for another month, but the front office is prepared to plow ahead with an off-season plan that involves competitive contract offers to both Alan Faneca and Max Starks.

"We're going to take a run at both of them," said a high-level source with the team.

When asked to assess the possibility the Steelers can sign either player, the source said: "Fifty-fifty on each."

The Steelers have found themselves in dire straits along the offensive line with the recent back problems being endured by left tackle Marvel Smith.

Smith was replaced ably by Starks, who came off the bench the last month of the season and showed how well he can play when his weight's under control. But Starks injured the meniscus cartilage in his left knee and was put on injured reserve this week.

The Steelers don't expect the recent surgery to impede the progress Starks has made, thus the renewed interest in the 6-foot-8 tackle.

As for Faneca and his perception of his Steelers career, Faneca said only two days ago: "I go with the assumption it's over."

He might be right, considering the Steelers normally wouldn't pay a 31-year-old guard the exorbitant salary it'll take to keep him. But Faneca, who made his 96th consecutive regular-season start last week and his seventh consecutive Pro Bowl three weeks ago, hasn't shown any signs of slowing down.

And then there was this comment from Larry Zierlein earlier this week:

"I wouldn't be surprised to see Alan finish his career as a center because he's just so smart," said the Steelers' offensive line coach.

After a season of inconsistent play at that position, the Steelers would no doubt like to do with Faneca what they should've done to keep Rod Woodson: Offer the big contract with the caveat of the player moving to another position as he slows down.

Woodson did, in fact, finish his career as a free safety. He left the Steelers following the 1996 season and didn't retire until the end of the 2003 season.

Faneca was asked about the prospect of finishing his career as the Steelers' next great center.

"I'd be open to listening," he said. "I'm not saying I would do that or be against it. I'd definitely be open-minded and talk about it with whomever."

The Steelers also believe Faneca might give them a slight break, or "hometown discount," because of his wife Julie's affinity for Pittsburgh.

"We made lots of great friends here," Faneca admitted. "No one ever said it would be easy."

But it doesn't have to be so difficult. The front office watched quarterback Ben Roethlisberger absorb 47 sacks this season and realizes that losing two of the team's best linemen is not the proper direction to take. And with a reported $18.6 million available under the projected 2008 salary cap, the Steelers have the means to take whatever direction they wish.

NOTES – The Jacksonville Jaguars might be one of the hottest teams in the league, but their fans aren't too interested. The Jaguars returned less than 1,000 unwanted tickets and the Steelers posted a link on their website Friday to sell them. The link was taken down less than 15 minutes later. … SS Troy Polamalu (knee) and RS Allen Rossum (hamstring) practiced Friday and both expect to play Saturday. Coach Mike Tomlin said that Santonio Holmes is no longer a candidate to return punts.

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