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Steelers must decide if franchise or transition tags work for possible free agents

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Friday, Jan. 1, 2010

Ryan Clark would love it, but don't even bring the subject to Casey Hampton.

To franchise or not to franchise, that's the question surrounding a handful of Steelers very shortly.

"No, I don't want a franchise tag," Hampton said.

If Sunday's game in Miami is the final one of the year for the defending World Champion Steelers, the organization will have about a month to decide on what they want to do with some of their key unrestricted free agents like Clark, Hampton, Jeff Reed and Willie Parker.

Do they sign them to a long-term deal?

Do they cut ties with them?

Or do they place the franchise and transition tag on any of them?

An exclusive franchise tag allows a team to strategically retain would-be free agents by offering them a one-year deal that pays them the average of the top five players at their position.

The non-exclusive franchise tag, which almost always is used instead, allows the player to shop his services to other teams, but the organization would have a chance to match any offer.

A transition tag is the average of the top 10 salaries of previous year at the player's position also with a chance to match any offer.

The Steelers used the transition tag on tackle Max Starks two years ago and the non-exclusive franchise tag this year at a price tag of $8.45 million before signing him to a 4-year, $26.3 million long term deal shortly after.

That could be the avenue the Steelers take with Hampton.

Hampton's salary is only $3.075 million this year, down slightly from last year. If the Steelers choose to franchise Hampton, who was selected to his fifth Pro Bowl earlier in the week, it would double his salary to a little more than $6 million for the 2010 season.

"That is something I do not want," Hampton said.

That's because at 32, Hampton doesn't want to risk injury that could prevent him for cashing in on possibly his last long-term, high paying contract especially after the season he is having.

"I think when I am healthy that I am a dominant player," Hampton said.

With the uncertainty of the CBA and a real possibility of an uncapped year in 2010 and 2011, teams will have more franchise opportunities than years past.

Currently, a team can put either a franchise tag or a transition tag on any one player. If the NFL gets to an uncapped year in 2010 and 2011 like expected, teams will have use of one franchise tag and two transition tags.

That means the Steelers could use the tag in multiple instances this offseason.

Clark could be one of them, but it would be highly unlikely, even if there is nobody in place behind him to take his starting free safety spot.

"A lot of uncertainty is with the new CBA," Clark said. "I would love to be franchised. You don't get any longevity or security and that's the thing about it."

Clark is in the final year of a 4-year deal that pays him $1.75 million a season. A franchise tag would cost the Steelers more than $6 million while the transition tag would be a little more than $5 million.

To put that into perspective, Troy Polamalu makes just less than $7 million per season.

"I am not good enough (to get franchised)," Clark said. "You all keep saying this stuff. The really good players are the ones you franchise. Guys like me don't get franchised. They are not going to franchise me. For Casey it probably wouldn't be so bad."

Kicker Jeff Reed is also a franchise/transition possibility. He is in the final year of his deal that pays him about $1.5 million a year and a franchise or transition would cost the Steelers anywhere between $750,000 to $1 million more than what they are paying him now.

Willie Parker wouldn't make much sense at all to slap a tag on him.

His making close to $4 million this year and the franchise number will be close to $7 million.

Parker lost his starting job to first round pick Rashard Mendenhall.

Additional Information:


The Steelers have four notable free agents that are without contracts that they could lose to free agency during the offseason. If they leave, the Steelers don't have a ton of options to replace them


Ryan Clark FS Ryan Mundy

Casey Hampton NT Chris Hoke

Jeff Reed PK ?????????

Willie Parker RB Rashard Mendenhall

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