With all the talk surrounding the expected departures of soon-to-be free-agents, one player has been excluded from the banter; which could signal an impending career change.
Of all of the Pittsburgh Steelers unrestricted free-agents, one name has been omitted from rumors of either return or exit; leaving little hope for a re-signing even at a reduced salary - Casey Hampton.
Hampton has been the starting nose-tackle for Pittsburgh since they drafted him in 2000, with their first-round selection. In every season of his career, he has been the perfect example of what a 3-4 NT should be. He absorbs double teams to clear space for linebackers, if he doesn't stuff the run himself through a single blocker. The Steelers have hung their numerous top-five defensive rankings on the consistency of Hampton.
While Harrison and his agent are having some fun with over-zealous Steelers fans who took the news in ignorance and anger by linking the linebacker with his former team's divisional rivals, and Keenan Lewis tip-toes along the fence between ethics and tampering on his social media accounts; no one is talking about Hampton.
Hampton would be entering his 13th season in the NFL, at the age of 35. While many have hope he would re-sign with Pittsburgh in 2013 for a barely-above minimum salary, the fact no one is talking about his agent negotiating with team leaves little hope for any such move.
Fellow defensive tackle Steve McLendon was recently offered a $1.323 million restricted free-agency tender, which seems to mean the team will audition him for a leading role in 2013. Should he not pan out, the team will let him walk next season as an unrestricted free-agent. If he does, his contract will still end up cheaper than Hampton's have been recently. If the Steelers wish to fully gauge McLendon's viability, he will need to be given the burden to shoulder. Re-signing Hampton only steals evaluation snaps, considering he may only have one or two more seasons left in him.
If the team has decided to sever ties with Hampton, he should have no trouble finding a new job if he wants to continue to play in the NFL. The 3-4 alignment is as popular as it has ever been, and team's are finding out true system players are hard to come by. As the Philadelphia Eagles slowly purge the remnants of the Andy Reid regime, they find themselves restocking the roster for new coach Chip Kelly, who wants to change the defensive philosophy from the nine-wide four-man fronts to the athletic 3-4 defense. The Eagles will be in need of a true 3-4 NT if they will make a successful transition.
Wherever Hampton winds up, the end of his career will soon be upon him. Regardless of where he plays in 2013, he will always be remembered as a ring-bearing member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.