The Steelers and nose tackle Casey Hampton have come to a three-year contract agreement worth $21.3 million this morning. The deal includes a signing bonus of $6.5 million.
The deal comes ahead of today’s 4 p.m. deadline in which the Steelers planned to make Hampton their franchise player.
The team also placed the franchise tag on kicker Jeff Reed, meaning he will earn $2,814,000 in 2010 — the average of the top five kickers in the NFL…
By placing the franchise tag on Reed, the Steelers virtually eliminated him from leaving in free agency. At the minimum, it would provide the Steelers with two first-round draft choices in return if he signs elsewhere.
Hampton’s officially locked up, and considering no one’s gonna give up two first round picks for a kicker (now that the Raiders have re-signed Janikowski), Jeff Reed’s as good as locked up too. I was initially reserved about a Hampton extension, even taking into account his 2010 performance and what he means to their 3-4 defense, but because of my anecdotal recollection of Hampton’s injury history, although a quick look at his numbers reveals that he’s played at least 15 games in four of the last five seasons, so perhaps my memory’s just a little fuzzy because Hampton’s absence is always so pronounced when it occurs, plus he’s really fat and it’s easy to picture him getting hurt. It’s a good deal, especially considering that his game doesn’t really depend on any skills that would deteriorate with advanced age — he’ll remain useful for the immediate future as long as he doesn’t tragically lose a ton of weight this offseason, or the Fat Boys miraculously get back together and offer him a cameo in their comeback film Fat Boys 2000: Fat Thing You Do. Both of these are unlikely.
Reed’s deal might be a little on the expensive side, and probably isn’t totally efficient in strict dollars-to-value terms, but it was a pretty necessary move for the Steelers. Kickers are similar to closers in baseball in many regards; they’re always readily available, their performances are erratic from year to year except in the most elite cases, and they’re usually not worth overpaying (as the Patriots proved with their hard-line Adam Vinatieri negotiations), but when your team has a crappy one, there’s just nothing more frustrating. Sometimes, especially in the case of a perennial contender like the Steelers, the certainty that comes with overpaying a known commodity like Reed just trumps any potential financial savings that come with drafting or signing a replacement, and since the franchise tag is only a one year ordeal, it at least buys the Steelers time to work out a long-term contract with Reed or formulate a Plan B if he continues holding out or sucks in 2010.
Overall, these were two moderately pricey but very necessary moves by the Steelers. GMing with your heart instead of your head is a recipe for disaster in any sport, but in the instances where legitimate value happens to overlap with likability — as with Hampton, Reed, and the case of Hines Ward before this — the team’s course of action becomes a no-brainer.
We can now resume focusing any Steeler anxiety we were wasting on these contract situations back onto Bruce Arians.