The Pittsburgh Steelers have made retaining DT Casey Hampton and S Ryan Clark an offseason priority and neither player is expected to hit the open market, according to sources with knowledge of the situation. This year’s free-agent class is already shaping up to be thin due to the absence of a CBA extension at this point, and the best prospects will be further limited as teams negotiate new deals with key free agents between now and March.
The Steelers began exploratory talks with Clark before the season, and it would be very surprising if they did not come to a deal in the coming weeks. Clark is coming off what may have been his best season, with Troy Polamalu out for much of the year. In the mean time, the team is likely to let another free agent safety, Tyrone Carter, hit the market.
Hampton’s weight issues have given the team concern at times, but he again was an anchor on defense in 2009. Given Hampton’s age — he will be playing his 10th season in 2010 — and the possibility the sides cannot agree on a long-term deal, the team could always end up using a franchise designation on him as well. Last year, the franchise tag for DTs was only roughly $6 million (Hampton earned aproximately $3.1 million in 2009) and though that figure will rise, it remains low compared to many other positions.
Also, if there is no new CBA, clubs can utilize an extra franchise designation in 2010, another tool that would restrict the quantity and quality of players to hit the market.