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Steelers won't rule out tagging NT Hampton

| Saturday, Feb. 13, 2010

Casey Hampton has made it clear he does not want the Steelers to use a franchise tag on him.

In less than two weeks, the Steelers may do so anyway and tell the five-time Pro Bowler that it is simply business.

By tagging Hampton, the Steelers would effectively deny the veteran nose tackle the chance to hit the open market.

"Our stance on the tag is that while we don't like to use (it), we're never going to say that we're not going to use something that is collectively bargained as a tool in this process," Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert said Friday.

Translation: the Steelers will use a franchise tag on Hampton as a last resort March 5, when the free-agent signing period starts.

Hampton, 32, who seeks a multi-year contract from the Steelers or the freedom to shop himself around, told the Tribune-Review last week that "it's going to be a problem if I get franchised."

If the Steelers place the franchise tag on Hampton, they would have to offer the unrestricted free agent a one-year contract worth a little more than $7.74 million.

The two sides don't have much time to negotiate the kind of deal that Hampton covets.

Colbert said the Steelers won't seriously negotiate with Hampton until after they have completed their evaluation of the 2010 free agent class near the end of next week.

That will give the Steelers until Feb. 25 to work out a multi-year contract with Hampton. The 25th is the deadline for using a franchise or less restrictive transition tag on players.

Along with Hampton, free safety Ryan Clark and kicker Jeff Reed have been identified by the Steelers as top priorities following a review of their own free agents.

Of the seemingly narrow window to sign all or any of the three to long-term contracts, Colbert said: "I think there will be time. We're not looking at it as against the clock or anything like that."

The NFL goes to an uncapped year if the players and owners don't agree on a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) before March 5. The two sides appear to be far apart.

In the event of an uncapped year, Colbert said, the Steelers will operate as if they are still bound by spending limitations.

He added that the Steelers will estimate what the cap would have been for 2010 — it was $127 million per team in 2009 — and use that to guide them during the offseason.

Colbert said he doesn't know if an uncapped year will put the spend-conscious Steelers at a competitive disadvantage.

"It's hard to predict,'' Colbert said. "We don't concern ourselves with that as long as we're doing business the way we feel that's best."

Note: Steelers scout Mark Gorscak will be inducted into the Mid Mon Valley All Sports Hall of Fame in June. The Donora native recently got elected to a group whose members include Joe Montana, Stan Musial, Ken Griffey Sr. and Steelers college scouting coordinator Ron Hughes.

Sitting down with Kevin Colbert.

The Steelers' director of football operations talked with reporters Friday for the first time this offseason. Here are some highlights:

» The Steelers are looking to add depth at every position other than quarterback, and they will be aggressive in trying to upgrade their roster. "I think if you enter the season with the same group that you ended the season, you might expect the same result because we're a 9-7 team at this point," Colbert said. "Sure, some players will improve and some players will regress. You just hope the improvements outweigh the regressions, and you hope that the players you add will add depth and competition."

» The Steelers should be able to find players that can help them throughout the 2010 NFL draft. "I think the quality of the draft is excellent _ very deep defensively," Colbert said. "Offensively, there may not be as many big-name skill positions, but there are a lot of players. It's really a good draft."

» The Steelers will focus on free agency and the draft, Colbert said, before trying to sign players going into the final year of their contracts to long-term deals.

» Colbert said he "is totally happy in my position at this point." Colbert has been linked with former Steelers coach Bill Cowher when the latter is mentioned for head-coaching jobs since the two worked together from 2000-06.

Steelers' free-agent watch

Director of football operations Kevin Colbert said the Steelers have not ruled out re-signing any of their unrestricted free agents.

Here are the players on that list:

NT Casey Hampton — Tagging him may be unavoidable - and potentially unpleasant.

S Ryan Clark — Clark wants to stay, and Steelers will welcome him if the price is right.

K Jeff Reed — He'll be back next season as both sides want Reed to stay in Pittsburgh.

RB Willie Parker — "Fast Willie" is as good as gone unless suitors are scarce.

S Tyrone Carter — He can't return as anything more than the team's No. 4 safety.

CB Deshea Townsend — Smarts and versatility make him a valuable reserve.

QB Charlie Batch — Steelers told Batch they want him back as No. 3 QB.

DE Travis Kirschke — A solid backup but risky at his age - 36 at start of season.

DE Nick Eason — The Steelers will likely bring back Kirschke or Eason but not both.

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