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Savran: Steelers' today eclipses tomorrow

Saturday, June 22, 2002

The Steelers have gathered the necessary instruments and the best musicians that money can buy. Whether they blend together and make beautiful football music remains to be seen.

The organization has gone to great lengths to cover every possible detail, to dot every "i" and cross every "t" in a Super Bowl script, even down to the backup quarterback.

The signing of Charlie Batch is clearly an upgrade. Not that Homestead's favorite son will make anyone forget about most others on Western Pennsylvania's illustrious quarterback list, but he is a solid insurance policy in case of serious injury to Kordell Stewart ... a policy that comes at a ridiculously affordable premium.

With all due respect to Tommy Maddox, there are severe doubts about whether he could take the Steelers where they want to go if Stewart were to go down for any substantial length of time. To finish a game, start the next one or two, he'd be fine. His aptitude for the game, plus the Steelers' defense and running attack would be more than enough for short-term survival.

But if Stewart was out for six or eight weeks -- or the season -- it's hard to imagine them being involved on Super Sunday if Maddox was entrusted with the responsibility of getting them there.

While separated from being Dan Marino by more than Second Avenue, Batch is accomplished to a degree, and, if called upon, would be better equipped to lead a team whose only objective is a championship.

Let's face it: Given the money they've spent to provide Bill Cowher with every instrument, from the oboe to the glockenspiel, anything less than one for the thumb will be classified as an unsuccessful season. Even if they go 16-0 but don't hoist that trophy, Pittsburgh's collective chin will drop to its chest. And that's why signing Batch was wise, to cover every eventuality.

There is, however, a dark side to the force, and that is yet another detour on the road to discovering, or uncovering, a "Quarterback of the Future."

With the signing of Batch and the contract extension given to Maddox, it's obvious Tee Martin no longer fits into the Steelers' plans. Not that developing a quarterback is a top priority on a team whose future is totally eclipsed by the present. But Martin's imminent departure does represent another miscalculation. The line has been as long as it has been unsuccessful. The team was high on Mike Quinn, but he was removed in favor of Pete Gonzalez. He then was bumped out by Anthony Wright, yet another quarterback of tomorrow until Martin was drafted in 2000.

It would appear that the Steelers began to sour on Martin when he was unable to win the backup role from Maddox, who came to camp last year merely trying to land a job. Evidently, they have been so unimpressed with Martin's play in Europe that they not only signed Batch, but extended Maddox's contract.

Given the Steelers' objective and focus on this season, worrying about the quarterback of the future ranks well below planning a Super Bowl parade. But it might be elevated on the agenda as early as the draft next year.

Consider that Batch signed just a one year contract, enabling him to look for a starting position elsewhere. Why not here? In all honesty, would Batch even be the Steelers' choice when the Kordell era comes to a close? And when might that be? Perhaps much sooner than we think.

More than likely we'll know whether that era will continue by early next year. Stewart will be entering the final year of his contract, and it's reasonable to expect that if the Steelers want to keep him, they would make contract overtures well in advance of the expiration of the existing deal.

But what if Kordell does win the Super Bowl, and his demands become unaffordable? Or if he and high powered agent Leigh Steinberg just want to test the open market, if only as leverage?

Or what if 2002 brings back the Kordell of 1999, and the Steelers aren't as driven to lock him up for the rest of his career? What then? He'd still be your starter in 2003, but would Batch be willing to wait until 2004 to get his shot? Surely, Maddox doesn't fit into the starting quarterback equation, no matter how you fiddle with the math.

The Steelers are well positioned at the most important position -- for this season. Beyond that, expect them to expend a pick -- and a high one at that -- on the next "Quarterback of the Future" in the next draft.

Stan Savran hosts a sports talk show, weekdays from 8 to 9 p.m. on WBGG-AM (970).

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