Colbert: Faneca gone, Starks deal likely ...

Kevin Colbert (AP)

The Pittsburgh Steelers said goodbye to Alan Faneca by putting the transition tag on Max Starks. Kevin Colbert thinks the tag can turn into a long-term deal for their No. 3 offensive tackle.

Kevin Colbert said goodbye to Alan Faneca yesterday morning as he explained the Steelers' use of the transition tag on Max Starks.

In fact, Colbert asked the big question himself.

"The natural question is ‘Why didn't you tag Alan?'" Colbert said at Thursday morning press conference at the Indianapolis combine.

"In talking with Alan and talking to Alan's representatives," Colbert continued, "he's probably going to get significant money on the open market and it's probably money that we're not going to be able to absorb. If we did absorb it, it might limit us in what else we can do in free agency, so you have to make a decision on which guy is more signable, and in our estimation that guy is Max."

That means Starks could be on the books for the one-year cost of $6.895 million when free agency opens Feb. 29. That would significantly cut into the Steelers' $16 million cap surplus, and, to a team that's hoping to extend the contract of its franchise quarterback, would seemingly curtail any activity in free agency. Colbert disagreed.

"No," he said. "We'll be able to still do some other things in free agency. It won't be as much as we'd like to do, unless of course we get a long-term deal done."

The Steelers believe Starks will agree to a long-term deal which would significantly lower the cap hit. However, the transition tag does allow Starks to test the open market without another team having to compensate the Steelers.

The transition tag differs from the franchise tag, which requires two first-round draft picks as compensation. But at a cost of $7.455 million, a franchise tag wasn't worth it to the Steelers.

"The difference was roughly $560,000, which could be two minimum-salaried players difference," Colbert said.

So the Steelers are taking a couple of risks. They're risking an inordinate amount of cap space on a player who could again be their No. 3 tackle, and they're risking losing both Faneca and Starks. But Colbert likes his odds of reaching a deal with Starks.

"We think he wants to stay and we think we'll be able to work out a long-term deal," he said.

And then what? Coach Mike Tomlin wouldn't move Willie Colon to make room for Starks last season. Will the same coaching staff make the necessary moves this season?

"Max was our sixth lineman this year so he's probably going to factor in more so than he did last year," Colbert said. "Whether he plays or how much he plays, that'll be up to Coach Tomlin. But I think it shows the organization's commitment to keeping that player in the mix so that we have a decision to make. We'd rather have a decision to make with more guys than less." Colbert also talked about a variety of draft topics. Here are some of his comments:

* "This group of offensive tackles, it's the best group I've seen in 24 years. ... I think you can get a tackle in all three rounds."

* "[Running backs are] just like the tackles. I think you can get a running back, in the first three rounds, of good quality."

* "[Jonathan Stewart] is probably a little more well-rounded than [Darren] McFadden at this point. ... All these juniors, they just made this thing so much better from a running back standpoint."

* "I don't adhere to any of that 'Well, you can get get another guy (at the position) in the second, third round.' If he's a special player, you take him."

* "Offensive linemen are probably the hardest to acclimate to the NFL, only because they have to become one of five. ... So to think an offensive lineman can come in and have an immediate impact is a bit of a stretch."

* "Ideally, everyone wants the biggest, tallest, best player they can get, and Ben [Roethlisberger] is a tall quarterback so he'd like to have a receiver who's on the same plane as he is, and you understand that. But you can't just make a guy a more valuable prospect than he is just because he's 6-3 or 6-4. Again, if you can find a great receiver who's taller, super. But in the meantime you'd better take the best prospect you can get."

* "If you trade down, as deep as this draft is, you're probably going to benefit."

* "It was an interesting career for Jeff [Otah], because coming out as a JC you heard about him as a junior and you paid attention to him, and his senior year he continued to get better. Jeff's an interesting kid that probably hasn't played his best football yet. ... There's probably a lot of upside left in him."

* "We live by the credo that 80 percent of the evaluation happens from August to December when they play."

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