Could this be the end of the line for Hampton?

By: Mike Bires
Beaver County Times

Saturday January 2, 2009 11:55 PM
http://www.timesonline.com/sports/sport ... mpton.html


Today’s game in Miami could be the last for the 2009 Steelers. It could also be the last in a Pittsburgh uniform for Casey Hampton.

Hampton isn’t the only Steeler who could be gone by the time training camp starts next summer. Willie Parker, Willie Colon, Ryan Clark, Deshea Townsend and Jeff Reed are also in the last year of their contracts. They don’t know where they’ll be next year.

Neither does Hampton, who’s been one of the truly great Steelers since they selected him in the first round of the 2001 draft.

He’s been the NFL’s most dominant nose tackle of the last decade.

Hampton has been so good at what he does that he’s one of only three current Steelers named to the franchise’s all-time team.

“Casey and I came into this league at the same time,” backup nose tackle Chris Hoke said. “It’s been an honor to have played with Casey and to have been his friend all these years. You know, I’m not sure if people give him the credit he really deserves.”

Certainly, AFC players and coaches thought enough of Hampton that they named him to this year’s Pro Bowl game. It’ll be his fifth appearance in the all-star game. To put that in perspective, consider that only three Steeler defensive linemen have gone more often: Joe Greene (10), Ernie Stautner (nine) and L.C. Greenwood (six).

And besides his performance on the field, Hampton has been one of the most popular Steelers. He’s got a hilarious sense of humor. He’s easily one of the most well-liked guys in the locker room.

“He’s been a heck of a teammate and he’ll always be a good friend,” tackle Max Starks said. “He’s got a great personality. He’s a great human being.”

If the Steelers don’t re-sign Hampton before March, he’ll shop his wares on the open market. Even though he’ll be 33 next year, Hampton figures to fetch a lucrative contract somewhere as an unrestricted free agent.
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Then again, maybe the Steelers will retain him by putting a franchise tag on him. Franchise players are kept for a year and paid the average of the top five salaries at that player’s position. This year, the going price for a franchised defensive tackle was $6.058 million.

The other day before practice, Hampton refused to talk about contractual matters.

“I ain’t talking about that,” he said. “I ain’t talking about me leaving or me being here until the time is right.”

Hampton did say that his outstanding performance this season could not have come at a better time.

“I mean, I’m not going to sit here and lie and say it doesn’t mean anything,” said Hampton, who’s being paid a base salary of $3.075 million this season. “Everything is working itself out and everything will work itself out. It’s always a good deal when you’re trying to get a contract and you play well and get this kind of (Pro Bowl) honor.

“Everyone in this locker room and everyone upstairs (in the front office) knows what I’m capable of doing. I’ve never been worried about that.”

Hampton would prefer to remain a Steeler for the rest of his career. But he also understands the business side of football. He knows he could be playing elsewhere next year.

The Steelers have lost their share of free agents over the years. They don’t seem to mind. They just plug the holes through the draft or by signing mid-level free agents, and move on.

But there’s a strong feeling among current players that Hampton deserves to stay. They say he should be justly rewarded for what he’s done in the past and what he can do in the future.