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Steelers lock up 2 key veterans

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Steelers made significant progress Thursday toward their three-pronged strategy of signing nose tackle Casey Hampton, kicker Jeff Reed and free safety Ryan Clark to long-term contracts.

The Steelers locked up Hampton with a three-year deal that could be worth as much as $21.3 million. And they assured there will be no other bidders as they work toward a multi-year contract with Reed by using a franchise tag on the veteran kicker.

Clark, a starter since signing with the Steelers in 2006, has a clear path to free agency. But director of football operations Kevin Colbert said yesterday he is optimistic the Steelers can re-sign Clark even if they don't get a deal done before March 5, the start of free agency. The reason: Clark wants to stay in Pittsburgh, and the Steelers want him back.

"Usually when you have that type of mindset on both sides, it helps get deals done," Colbert said yesterday at the NFL Scouting Combine.

The deal the Steelers consummated with Hampton - it happened less than six hours before the deadline to tag players - had to be a relief for the team on several fronts.

It ensured the Steelers won't lose a five-time Pro Bowler and vital part of their defense. The contract that includes a $6.5 million signing bonus also heads off any hard feelings that could have occurred had the Steelers used a franchise tag on the 32-year-old Hampton.

Hampton, who would have been offered a one-year deal worth around $7.75 million as a franchise designee, told the Tribune-Review in late January that he did not want the Steelers to tag him and that it would "be a problem" if they did.

"We're happy that we didn't get to that point," Colbert said. "Casey has been a big part of our success, and we think he has a lot of football left. Plus, we think he's one of our leaders. We don't like to use that tag. If we have to, we will."

The Steelers tagged Reed, meaning they have to offer him a one-year, $2.814 million contract. But Colbert made it clear the Steelers employed the tag to buy more time - and bridge whatever differences remain between the organization and Donal Henderson, Reed's agent, on a multi-year contract.

The Steelers did something similar last year when they used the franchise tag on left tackle Max Starks and later signed him to a four-year deal.

As with Hampton, Colbert said the hope is that Reed retires as a Steeler.

"He's aware of the situation," Colbert said of tagging Reed. "As long as players and agents are willing to stay with the team, and the team wants you, you're going to get a deal done. Everybody's goal is to sign Jeff to a long-term deal."

The Steelers have the same goal in mind for Clark, who signed a four-year, $7 million contract with them in 2006.

The risk the Steelers take if Clark is not re-signed before next Friday: another team could set his market value.

Even if Clark is courted by other teams, Colbert said, the Steelers could still retain him if they are given the opportunity to match any offers.

"I think they feel obligated to look and see what's out there," Colbert said of Clark and his agent, Joel Turner. "That's OK. When a player comes back and we're able to sign him and they've done their homework and they feel their best opportunity is here, then everybody feels better."

Colbert reiterated that the Steelers will let their other unrestricted free agents test the open market before trying to re-sign any of them. Included in that group are running back Willie Parker and cornerback Deshea Townsend.

Additional Information:

Priority players

The Steelers signed nose tackle Casey Hampton on Thursday and are working toward a long-term deal with kicker Jeff Reed. Both are among the most accomplished players at their position in team history:

Casey Hampton

• Has started 121 of 128 career games with the Steelers and amassed 314 tackles and 8 12 sacks.

• Member of the Steelers' 75th Season All-Time Team and was the Steelers' 2005 co-MVP (Hines Ward).

• Steelers have finished no worse than No. 3 in the NFL in rushing defense in eight of Hampton's nine seasons.

Jeff Reed

• Second to Gary Anderson on Steelers' all-time scoring list with 855 points.

• Most accurate kicker in team history as Reed has made 83.3 percent of his field goals.

• Missed only two field goals that were less than 50 yards in 2009.

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