NT Hampton doesn't want the franchise tag

| Saturday, Jan. 30, 2010

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The Steelers want Casey Hampton, an unrestricted free agent, to return to the team. The Pro Bowl nose tackle wants to stay in Pittsburgh.

How the two sides arrive at that common ground is where it gets a little complicated and potentially messy.

Hampton said Friday "it will be a problem" if the Steelers use a franchise tag and offer him a one-year contract instead of signing the accomplished veteran to a multi-year deal.

"You say we're family, and you'll take care of me. All I've done for this organization, 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."

A franchise tag would essentially prevent Hampton from hitting the open market when the free agent signing period begins March 5.

Hampton didn't elaborate when asked if he would skip offseason practices — most of which are voluntary — or hold out of training camp should the Steelers use a franchise tag on him.

"It will be an issue," he said. "I told (the Steelers) that."

If the Steelers tag the 32-year-old Hampton, they have to offer him a one-year contract that's the average of the top five salaries made by defensive linemen in 2009. That figure will be released next week by the NFL Players' Association.

Hampton, who signed a five-year contract with the Steelers in 2005, made just more than $4 million last season.

The Steelers used a franchise tag on offensive tackle Max Starks last February to extend their negotiating period with him. They signed Starks to a four-year contract in June.

Hampton said he doesn't want the Steelers to take the same approach with him.

If the two sides can't reach an agreement on a long-term contract before early March, Hampton said, the organization should let the player known as "Big Snack" shop his services elsewhere.

"I believe they're going to try to get something done. But at the end of the day, if the two sides don't come to terms, let me see what's out there," said Hampton, a five-time Pro Bowler. "Don't hold me back because you didn't want to sign me before the (2009) season. It's your time to make it right. That's how I see it."

The Steelers declined comment yesterday, citing their policy of not talking about contract negotiations.

The Steelers traditionally don't sign players in their 30s to long-term deals, though they have made exceptions in recent years with linebackers James Harrison and James Farrior.

The organization is in a delicate situation with Hampton. His backup, Chris Hoke, is less than a year younger than Hampton, and finding a capable replacement for the 6-foot-1, 325-pounder in this year's draft is not exactly a sound contingency plan.

"Everybody wants one, but there is just not a lot to go around," ESPN NFL Draft analyst Todd McShay said of nose tackles. "That's the one spot that's so hard to find a guy that's big and is a good football player."

Hampton has been both since the Steelers took him with the 19th overall pick of the 2001 draft.

The former Texas star has been a vital part of their 3-4 defense because of his ability to occupy multiple blockers and stand his ground at the line of scrimmage.

Hampton is coming off one of his better seasons — he had 42 tackles and a career-high 2.5 sacks in 2009 — and he said he has plenty of good years left provided he stays healthy.

Nose tackle is a critical if unsung position in the base defense the Steelers play. Enhancing Hampton's value is the trend that has seen more teams switch to the 3-4 alignment that the Steelers use.

"He's definitely one of the top nose tackles in this league," said Dallas Cowboys nose tackle Jay Ratliff, who also will play Sunday in the Pro Bowl. "I watch him, and I learn from him. A guy that size you don't expect him to move the way he does."

Hampton said he isn't in a hurry to leave the Steelers. But, he added, it comes down to the Steelers showing him the same commitment he has given 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," Hampton said. "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."

Note: The Steelers hired Jerry Olsavsky yesterday to be their defensive quality control coach. Olsavsky fills the spot on Mike Tomlin's staff left by Lou Spanos' departure. Spanos recently became the Washington Redskins' linebackers coach. Olsavsky played linebacker for the Steelers from 1989-1997. A former Pitt star, Olsavsky coached at Youngstown State last season.

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Go to Tribune-Review Steelers beat reporter Scott Brown's blog, View From the Press Box .

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