Free Agent Max Starks Could Solidify San Diego Chargers’ Offensive Line
Pittsburgh Steelers free agent offensive tackle Max Starks is visiting with the San Diego Chargers this week. This comes as no surprise, because Starks is a proven left tackle, which is a position of major need for Mike McCoy’s team.
Should Starks sign with the Chargers, he will be reuniting with offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. Whisenhunt became the offensive coordinator of the Steelers the same year that the franchise selected Starks in the third round of the draft, 2004.
Starks initially played on the right-side of the offensive line and started there during the team’s Super Bowl victory over the Seattle Seahawks in 2005. With Marvel Smith still protecting Ben Roethlisberger’s blindside until 2008, Starks would be forced to wait his turn to move to his more natural position.
Once he found his way to the left side however, Starks immediately looked more comfortable as primarily a pass-blocker rather than an impact run-blocking offensive lineman. Starks would start his second Super Bowl in 2008, but this time he would be protecting Roethlisberger’s blindside. Starks would be Roethlisberger’s blindside protector from then until this most recent season. Filling that role is difficult for any team, but filling that role for Roethlisberger is a thankless task.
Roethlisberger is infamous for holding onto the ball and extending plays. That put a lot of pressure on the 6-8 350 lb Starks who was forced to hold off defenders for longer than your typical tackle. Throw in the fact that Bruce Arians ran an expansive offense that asked a lot of his offensive linemen and Starks’ numbers will never truly reflect the performances of the veteran over the past few years.
Starks didn’t play under Arians this past season, instead he was part of a dysfunctional offense in Pittsburgh that failed to accommodate Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley as a combination. Starks had torn his ACL during the playoffs the season before, but he made it back in time to start Week 1 and didn’t miss a game last season at age of 31.
On 1,086 snaps in 2012, Starks gave up five total sacks, eight hits and 40 pressures. In comparison, Michael Harris and Jared Gaither combined for 14 sacks, 7 hits and 50 pressures in less than 900 snaps. Starks would be an immediate upgrade at the left tackle position and a worthy starter for the Chargers’ offensive line.
Not only would his addition improve the left tackle position, but it would also allow the Chargers to consider moving King Dunlap to right tackle and rookie DJ Fluker inside to right guard. Fluker may project to be a better starting right tackle than Dunlap, but in order to put the most talent on the field it would serve the offense better to move Fluker inside because Dunlap is too big to play guard.
One major worry for the Chargers if they sign Starks would be the fact that their two offensive tackles would be very cumbersome in a division with pass-rushers such as Tamba Hali, Justin Houston and Von Miller.
Each of those pass-rushers would be able to use Starks and Dunlap’s size against them, but the reality is at this stage of the off-season the Chargers need to make the most of what they can. They won’t find a franchise left tackle or a better, younger option than Starks. Even if he isn’t a perfect fit for the division, he has proven himself in a division full of talented pass rushers, the AFC North, over the years and has a previous relationship with the team’s new offensive coordinator.
For the Chargers, this is likely the best that they can do. If Philip Rivers can play to his potential next year, then it should be enough of an upgrade to put the offense back on track.
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