Speculation mounted last season as to whether both NT Casey Hampton and PK Jeff Reed would be back with the Steelers in 2010.
Hampton who turns 33 on Sept. 3, figured to be in high demand from other 3-4 teams looking for nose tackle help, and it was unclear whether the Steelers were willing to pay big to keep a defensive lineman for whom conditioning hasn't always been a priority, to put it mildly.
In the case of Reed, the question was whether the club was fed up with him for a variety of factors, most notably two arrests in 2009. Also, kickoffs are not his strong suit.
But the Steelers, signaling their willingness to keep Reed, gave him the franchise tag on Feb. 25, eight days before free agency begins. On the same day, they announced they had signed Hampton to a three-year contract . The contract, which runs through 2012, is reportedly worth approxmately $21 million.
Reed, who receives a one-year, $2.814 million contract offer as a result of receiving the tag, can negotiate with other clubs, but the Steelers have the right to match any offer sheet, and a team would have to surrender two first-round picks to pry him away. That is very unlikely. Much more likely: the Steelers and Reed, who has an affinity for kicking at challenging Heinz Field, will work on a multi-year contract extension.
Hampton, the Steelers' starting nose tackle since 2001, comes off a season in which he was named to the Pro Bowl. Finding top-caliber nose tackles is quite challenging, and their value has soared as the "30" front increases in popularity. Three nose tackles — New England's Vince Wilfork, San Francisco's Aubrayo Franklin and Green Bay's Ryan Pickett — were given the franchise tag, and Hampton would have received it in lieu of a multi-year deal.
The day to replace Hampton is coming soon, but that is easier said than done, and the Steelers' willingness to pay him handsomely reflects his value in a market that covets his skills more than ever. The same also can be said of the free-spirited-but-dependable Reed, who connected on 27-of-31 FG attempts last season and turns 31 in April.
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