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INDIANAPOLIS — As far as offering hints on how teams will react to the "unchartered waters" already rippling through the NFL landscape this offseason, the Steelers were one of the first franchises, if not the first, to formulate at least a general game plan.
A few weeks ago, Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert announced that the team was planning on adhering to a self-imposed salary cap and would conduct business accordingly. Since then, a number of teams have announced a similar strategy, seemingly intent on exercising more caution than usual.
But Colbert had plenty of Steelers business to talk about at the Scouting Combine late Thursday morning. For starters, he acknowledged that the team had avoided using a franchise tag on Casey Hampton by agreeing to a three-year deal reportedly worth about $21 million for the five-time Pro Bowler.
The signing is in line with the early trend so far this offseason to lock up quality nose tackles. New England's Vince Wilfork became the first player to receive a franchise tag this year, and Patriots owner Robert Kraft is on record as saying a long-term deal for Wilfork remains a top priority. Niners GM Scot McCloughan, the first NFL figure to address the national media at this year's Combine, said the same thing about freshly franchised Niners NT Aubrayo Franklin, and the Packers are expected to continue going out of their way to re-up with NT Ryan Pickett, who received the franchise tag Wednesday.
With the Steelers' franchise tag there for the taking with the 32-year-old Hampton now locked up for the foreseeable future, the team decided to use the tag to secure the services of PK Jeff Reed, the second-leading scorer in franchise history. Reed will be guaranteed $2.814 million this season and became the second placekicker to be franchised along with Seattle's Olindo Mare.
"It was important for us to get a player like Casey signed for the rest of his career," said Colbert of the Hampton signing, in addition to acknowledging the scarcity of top nose tackles in the NFL. "He is one of our team leaders, and getting him locked up early means a lot to the organization."
Colbert also said the Steelers are intent on having Reed finish his career with the team and felt confident a new contract agreement would eventually be consummated.
"As was the case with Casey's agent, Jeff's agents appear very willing to get something done, and whenever that is the case, a deal usually happens."
On other fronts, Colbert was also asked how concerned he was about star S Troy Polamalu, whose prolonged absence last season due to a knee injury was considered a key reason behind the 2008 Super Bowl champs' decline last season.
"We're not concerned at all," he said. "He's a player who always gives his all, and injuries can happen to anyone. We're not going to sit and worry about Troy."
Colbert also said that this year's draft appeared to have particularly good depth at the DE position. "It's as deep as I've seen in 26 years in the business," he said.
For the most authoritative NFL draft news and free-agency analysis, visit ProFootballWeekly.com.