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Steelers' Hampton, Starks not ready to hang it up

| Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012, 6:14 p.m.
Steelers offensive tackle Max Starks (right) helps quarterback Byron Leftwich off the field after a fourth-quarter sack against the Ravens at Heinz Field on Nov. 18, 2012. Starks said he would play for another NFL team is the Steelers release him. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
Christopher Horner
Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton, chasing Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer earlier this season, said he's open to testing the free-agent market. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

Hines Ward stepped to the podium nine months ago and said he couldn't imagine putting on a jersey other than the Steelers', so the receiver retired after 14 years in the league.

As Casey Hampton put it Wednesday: “I am a little different than Hines.”

So is Max Starks.

Hampton's and Starks' contracts are up following Sunday's meaningless season finale against Cleveland at Heinz Field, and both wouldn't have any problem wearing a different uniform next year if the Steelers' organization decides the two aren't part of their plan moving forward following a possible first losing season in nearly a decade.

“I want to play, and I feel like if I want to play and somebody wants me to play for them, I am going to play,” Hampton said. “I can't say that I can't see myself playing with somebody else, but I definitely wouldn't want to go anywhere else. There is no question about that.”

Hampton may not have any say in it, even though he had one of his most productive seasons despite not getting healthy from offseason knee surgery until midway through the season.

Starks either.

The Steelers used back-to-back second-round draft picks the past two years on tackles Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams. However, it was Starks who has played in all 1,029 of the Steelers snaps this year despite not getting signed until two weeks before training camp.

Starks said he would not come back to be a backup to either Adams or Gilbert.

“I am not a backup yet,” Starks said. “I still have a couple more years in me before I can even consider that role. They drafted two young guys in the second round the last two years, so do I think I will be here? Probably not, but at the same time, I feel that I have value somewhere.”

Even though Starks signed a four-year, $26.9 million deal in 2009, the past two years he played for the veteran's minimum of just less than $1 million.

The Steelers asked Hampton to take a $2 million salary reduction in March to return to the team with no assurances of tacking on an extra year if he agreed.

With the Steelers projected to be around $12 million over the salary cap at year's end, they could have a hard time justifying handing out big money to veterans such as Hampton and Starks.

“I am definitely going to continue to play,” Hampton said. “If it is here or wherever, I definitely want to be here, but it is a business and I understand that.”

Hampton is in the midst of one of his better years.

He had one of his better games last week against Cincinnati when he collected three solo tackles — his most since a Week 17 game against Cleveland last season.

“Given the opportunity, I feel like I still play at a high level,” Hampton said. “Give me a full season to work out and get in shape and be ready to play, I think I can play at a high level. I see myself able to play a couple more years.”

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at mkaboly@tribweb.com.

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