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Madden: A not so simple matter of money

Saturday, April 05, 2003

Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox is scheduled to make $725,000 this coming season. He likely will take all the snaps. Which means he will take all the hits. Make all the plays. Handle all the pressure.

Charlie Batch is scheduled to make $1 million this year. He will watch Maddox take all the snaps. Take all the hits. Make all the plays. Handle all the pressure.

That is an unhealthy situation. Consider, also, that the Steelers might draft a quarterback in the first or second round, which would then make Maddox the team's third highest-paid quarterback.

Maddox is a nice guy. He's grateful to be in the NFL. No matter what he makes, it beats the heck out of selling insurance, playing in the XFL or playing arena football.

But the No. 1 quarterback shouldn't make less than his backup(s). If Maddox tolerates that, he's a dope, and here's betting he won't tolerate it too long.

It might not happen until the season is well under way, but once Maddox re-experiences the demands of his job -- while Batch gets more money for wielding a clipboard -- Maddox will become disgruntled. If he doesn't, he's either not too bright or way too nice.

The Steelers say they won't renegotiate Maddox's deal before the season, and the reasoning behind that makes perfect sense.

Maddox could be a flash in the pan. He was above average last season, but the Steelers want (at least) a repeat of that performance before they show Maddox the money.

But what has Batch done to earn $275,000 more than Maddox?

Here's the easy out for the Steelers: Maddox earned an additional $400,000 in incentives last season, which he could/should earn again this season. Make $300,000 of that salary, not incentives.

Maddox would be paid like the No. 1 quarterback, he would feel like the No. 1 quarterback, and, hopefully, he would play like the No. 1 quarterback.

Batch has incentives in his contract, too. If he doesn't play, he won't get them. If he does play, and if he earns his incentives, Maddox will have lost his job or gotten hurt, and who cares how Maddox feels at that point?

If the Steelers take Florida quarterback Rex Grossman in the first round of the draft or Texas quarterback Chris Simms in the second, either would jump in with a big-money deal. But neither Maddox nor Batch would have reason to let that upset them. That's just the way of the NFL world.

I would love to see the Steelers take Grossman or Simms. For too long, the Steelers have acted as if it's more important to have good linebackers, tight ends and offensive linemen than it is to have a good quarterback. It's not. If the Steelers drafted someone who could develop into a marquee quarterback, they would finally be treating the position with the respect it deserves.

Or maybe the Steelers could draft a tight end in the first round.

The Steelers already are set to unveil a revolutionary four tight-end formation with Mark Bruener, Jay Riemersma, Jerame Tuman and Matt Cushing. But there's always room for one more.

Actually, there's obviously room for one less. The signing of Riemersma, a tight end known for his pass-catching, signals the end of the road for Bruener in Pittsburgh.

Bruener will be cut. Bet on it. The timetable depends on which salary-cap ramifications the Steelers choose. If Bruener is cut before June 1, he counts $2.4 million against the cap this season. If Bruener gets cut after June 1, he counts $600,000 this year, $1.8 million next year.

If the Steelers cut Bruener because he doesn't fit in with their new pass-oriented offense, fine. If the Steelers cut Bruener because he's been prone to injury the past two seasons, fine.

But if those are the reasons for cutting Bruener, what are the reasons for keeping Jerome Bettis?

Bettis can't catch or block. A power back doesn't help a passing offense. And he has been injured for significant parts of each of the past two seasons.

If the Steelers cut Bruener, wouldn't it be logical to cut Bettis for the same reasons?

If Riemersma is a better fit than Bruener for the Steelers' new offense, isn't Amos Zereoue a better fit, too?

The answers to those two questions are yes and yes. But he's the Bus, Steelers legend, purveyor of fine Giant Eagle products, and we love him. He has plenty left in the tank. Just ask him.

Bettis, as usual, is spending the off-season in St. Louis working out with his personal trainer. These workouts never seem to render him anything better than a different level of chunky. All the better for endorsing soup, I suppose.

Remember when the Steelers were stingy? Now they give Riemersma an $850,000 signing bonus when they're the only team that wants him. The Chief could have bought a lot of cigars with that money.

Mark Madden is the host of a sports talk show from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on WEAE-AM (1250).

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