With so many restructures already in the books for the Steelers, along with all the recent cuts, there’s a solid case for keeping NT Casey Hampton on the team in 2012. “He’s recovering from ACL surgery” you say? Yes indeed he is, but even given that situation, Hampton could still contribute to the team in 2012.
One of Hampton’s best friends and long time teammate Chris Hoke is now retired, and the only healthy NT on the roster is Steve McLendon, who will be entering his 3rd seeason out of Troy. Even if they do use a premium draft pick on a NT for the future, there’s still no guarantees on how well he’ll do. At the very least they may consider entering training camp with all 3 and then seeing how things go. If said draft pick is ready or McLendon shows he’s ready to take on the job full time, then maybe you consider letting Hampton go. Cutting the big snack ahead of time puts them in a very uncomfortable position and all but forces their hand to draft a NT. The Steelers rarely enter the draft allowing themselves to be pigeonholed into a particular position or situation.
Another option is start the season with McLendon as the starter, figuring that Hampton will be on the PUP list for the first 6 weeks. This is assuming that his rehab throughout the offseason gives them a considerable level of comfort that he’ll be able to play at a high level. So McLendon starts and as a rotation you consider moving DE Ziggy Hood to NT and basically run different versions of the 3-4 defense until Hampton is able to come back. This would be a risky move to some degree because Hood isn’t your typical Lebeau style player at that position. That’s not to say that they couldn’t make it work but you may have a rough start to a defense that is already going to have a new face starting at middle linebacker. This one wouldn’t be a likely scenario in my opinion but it is possible.
Kevin Colbert talked in interviews with the media both in Pittsburgh at the 2012 Combine that he expects Hampton to be back in 2012. That should be enough right now to say he’ll be back; however Colbert also said this week that more personnel moves could come depending on what the final salary cap number turns out to be. Personnel moves could be either a player release or restructure. If it’s lower than the expected $120 million or even if it’s right at the amount, they may still decide to make the tough call and cut a player like Hampton. Another option is to do what they did with Aaron Smith 2 years ago, and add another year to his deal and restructure. That could free up enough to sign their draft picks combined with the space they already have after the personnel moves completed previously. Assuming that the salary cap dramatically increases due to the new TV contract revenue expected, they could afford to eat the extra dead money if they had too. Perhaps not the most ideal option but it’s a possibility.
Finally, with the needs on the offensive line and possibly at middle linebacker and wide receiver (if Mike Wallace leaves), they could forgo drafting one highly all together until 2013 when they could potentially focus a first round pick on the position. Imagine using your first and second round draft picks on the offensive line! This situation would go back what we said earlier about how well Hampton is progressing with his rehab as training camp gets closer. I would hate to see them pass on getting a player like Dontari Poe or Alameda Ta’amu, both appear to be solid NFL prospects but as we saw in the combine, Poe may have very well worked himself into a top 15-20 spot. Ta’amu is a more realistic option at this point anyways. Still though if Hampton is going to be ok, this wouldn’t be that far fetched of a proposition.
At this point given Colbert’s comments about Hampton and the fact that he’s still on the roster, it makes you think he’s safe for 2012. If not completely safe, then atleast until the summer when they can take a better look at their depth and go from there. I would personally like to see Hampton stick around for one more year and then just ride off into the sunset. At least that would make me feel better about the defensive line. If things change though and a new draft pick steps in behind McLendon, then I for one will miss the big snack and say “Thank you” for the memories!