Steelers 2009 Free Agent Focus Marvel Smith

Marvel Smith holds the distinction of being Kevin Colbert’s second pick as director of football operations, and the second Steeler to start at right tackle as a rookie. Smith is the only Steeler lineman with Pro Bowl experience, a distinction he earned during the Steelers 2005 Super Bowl season. Smith played so well at right tackle that the Steelers rewarded him with a six-year contract extension in 2003 to play left tackle.

Assessment of Marvel Smith

Smith is the only member of the Steelers offensive line that can lay claim to the moniker of being “Pro Bowl caliber.” When he’s health, of course.

And that is the rub.

During his career, Smith has missed 30 games to injury, although in all fairness, he’s had 4 seasons where he started end-to-end, including playoffs. But Smith finished 2007 on IR with a back injury. Surgery was supposed to make him good as new. And he did look good until the Jacksonville game where he re-injured his back, had surgery again and was lost for the season.

Smith turned down a contract extension from the Steelers during the past off season, in hopes of finding greener pastures of free agency. He made a mistake, and cost himself/saved the Steelers millions in the process.

What the Steelers Should do with Marvel Smith

This is a tough one because you hate to see this happen to a loyal veteran, but the fact is that the Steelers must not commit long-term, guaranteed money to Marvel Smith. He will turn 31 his year, and has missed 16 games due to injury in the past two years. If the Steelers had a viable heir-apparent, perhaps they could resign Smith to a transitional type salary, assuming he’d be willing.

Alas, no heir apparent exists.

In the early going at St. Vincents last summer, fourth round pick Tony Hills drew comparisons to John Jackson (as in confused now, but could be very good later) but in late August it was reported that Hills was endanger of being cut. The fact that the Steelers made no attempt to dress Hills, let alone play him, does not speak volumes of confidence in him. Given such circumstances, and given the affection Steelers management has for Smith, there was a certain fear that sentimentality might kick in, in the form of “give him another shot.”

Most Likely Scenario for the Steelers and Marvel Smith

The decision to name Max Starks as the Steelers franchise player erases any doubt that the Steelers are sentimental about Marvel Smith. In talking about the move with Starks, Kevin Colbert stopped short of declaring this as an either or situation, but was quite clear that no long term deal for Marvel Smith is in the offing.

Smith, however, could wind up back with the Steelers. Given his age and injury history, it is hard to see the other 31 teams rushing to offer Marvel Smith lucurative, long-term contracts. (Then again, teams willing to overpay an offensive tackle have never been in short supply. John Jackson’s contract with the San Diego Chargers after the 1998 season rings a bell….) If Smith gets no takers on the free agent market, he could decide to return to Pittsburgh in a back up role.

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