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Steelers' Hampton doesn't want franchise tag

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — If the Steelers don't sign nose tackle Casey Hampton to a multi-year contract within the next five weeks they they should give him the freedom to look elsewhere, the five-time Pro Bowler said today.

Hampton is an unrestricted free agent, and he said "it will be a problem" if the Steelers use a franchise tag on him. A franchise tag would essentially prevent the 6-foot-1, 325-pound Hampton from hitting the open market when the free agent signing period begins March 5.

"You say we're family and you'll take care of me, and I feel like that's a slap in my face if you franchise me," Hampton told the Tribune-Review following a Pro Bowl practice at St. Thomas Aquinas High School. "That's not right. You don't do business like that. I want to be treated fair, and I think franchising me is not fair."

If the Steelers tag Hampton, 32, they would have to offer him a one-year contract worth the average of the top five salaries for defensive linemen in 2009.

Using a franchise tag on the player that has been an anchor for the Steelers' defense would prevent other teams from negotiating with Hampton or force them to give up two first-round draft picks if they made him an offer that the Steelers declined to match.

Hampton turned in one of his better seasons in 2009, notching a career-high 2.5 sacks while making 42 tackles and earning his fourth consecutive trip to the Pro Bowl.

The Steelers have said they want Hampton, their first-round draft pick in 2001, back. Hampton wants to return to Pittsburgh as long as the Steelers make the kind of commitment to him that he said he has given to them.

"I love the organization. I love the owners. I love the coaches. But this is all about being fair and doing what's right and I'm big on that," said Hampton, who will play in the Pro Bowl on Sunday night. "I want to be in Pittsburgh. There's no question about that. Can we make it right• That's what it's going to boil down to."

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