Steelers lock up Hampton through 2009

LATROBE – Hines Ward received all the scrutiny, but Casey Hampton received all the money.

"Everybody worried about him," said Hampton, "and I just snuck in through the back door and got mine done."

The Steelers pulled Hampton in for a talk before Saturday's preseason game and the sides didn't stop talking until Hampton signed a $22.5 million, five-year contract on Monday morning. His signing bonus was $6.97 million.

Hampton proved to the Steelers he'd recovered from last year's mid-season ACL tear, and the nose tackle reported to training camp at 320 pounds. He was up to 324 last night, but who could begrudge him a little taste of victory?

Hampton is now signed with the Steelers through the 2009 season, and he didn't have to test the free-agent market, much like his predecessor at nose tackle, Joel Steed.

"I followed in his footsteps," Hampton said. "To be a nose tackle and play in this defense, you couldn't want anything else. I'm built for this type of defense and it's fun for me to play."

"It's a good sign for the future of our defense," said Steelers president Art Rooney II. "Casey, since he's been here, has been one of the cornerstones of the success of our defense and obviously it's a group we'd like to try and keep together."

The Steelers have signed Hampton and Chris Hoke this off-season, but still could lose two other defensive linemen -- Kimo von Oelhoffen and Brett Keisel – next March, since the Steelers won't negotiate during the season.

In addition, the Steelers could lose Ward, Antwaan Randle El, Chris Hope, Deshea Townsend, Lee Mays and Jerame Tuman, who are also entering the final years of their contracts.

Rooney said there's enough room under the salary cap to continue talking to some or all of those players.

"Hopefully we'll have other announcements in the future," he said, but would not elaborate on which players the team is targeting.

The signing also proved the Steelers could negotiate multiple contracts at the same time. "Omar (Kahn) is capable of doing more than one thing at a time," Rooney said of his business operations coordinator.

Hampton was a first-round draft pick by the team in 2001. He moved into the starting lineup the sixth week of his rookie season and remained there until tearing an ACL in the sixth game last season.

Hampton's best season was 2003, when he was voted to the Pro Bowl. The combination of his growing status as a player and the knee injury left the Steelers wondering whether he'd be worth an expensive extension. But Hampton kept his weight down and proved his knee was sound by not missing a practice and playing well in two preseason games.

"There was a little apprehension," said coach Bill Cowher. "But he came in excellent shape with his weight down. He was a little bit better in the last game than the first game and I think he's getting better each day."

Cowher was asked about the specifics of Hampton's ability.

"It's hard to block him one-on-one," he said. "He can make plays from sideline to sideline. A classic case was the last game. He turns and runs to the ball and gets the big hit on (Randy) McMichael that causes the fumble. He can run for a guy that's his size. He's got great balance and you never see him off his feet."

Hampton wasn't off his feet at last night's press conference, either, when asked why he wanted to remain with the Steelers.

"Just the way the organization treats the players," he said. "The owners are always around us. We see them and talk to them. I know a lot of guys on different teams and they say the owners don't even know their names. Coach Cowher takes care of us; the city's a football city. You couldn't want to play somewhere else, so it was a no-brainer for me."

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