Hampton deal is a win for the Steelers

The Steelers appear to have gotten a bargain Thursday with the signing of nose tackle Casey Hampton. While the Packers, Patriots and 49ers are -- at least for the moment -- going year to year with their beefy defensive tackles, using the franchise tag to lock in one-year, $7-million deals with Ryan Pickett, Vince Wilfork and Aubrayo Franklin, respectively, the Steelers have taken a different route, probably due to their ability to forge a favorable agreement.

The Steelers negotiated a three-year deal with Hampton for a little over $21 million. It’s essentially payment for three individual years at the 2010 franchise number of $7M. Sounds fair enough. However, looking at the deal closely skews it in favor of the club.

Had the Steelers gone year to year with Hampton, he could have played through 2010 on the $7M tag, then been tagged again in 2011 -- assuming there’s football and payment of contracts -- for a one-year figure 20 percent higher, or $8.4M. Then, after 2011, they would have had to negotiate a new deal or move on, since using the tag three years in a row would require a quarterback tag number, which would be prohibitive.

So instead of going year to year with Hampton for two years at $15.4M guaranteed, the Steelers were able to hammer a deal for three years at $21M, although that number is not as real as the guarantee number of $11M. For approximately 70 percent of what it would cost in guaranteed money to have Hampton for two years playing under a franchise tag, the Steelers now have Hampton under contract for three years.

How will Franklin, Pickett and Wilfork react to this deal? Probably not well. I sense they had stars in their eyes about getting at least half of what Albert Haynesworth received from the Redskins at this time last year. With Haynesworth’s deal exceeding $40M in guaranteed money, certainly these guys were hoping for/expecting $20M. Now there's a new and more relevant data point comp that the Packers, Patriots and 49ers will hold up as Exhibit A: $11M. Ouch.

If the Hampton deal is a sign of a new way of doing business in the NFL compared to 2009 -- with Hampton receiving barely 25 percent of the guaranteed money Haynesworth received a year ago -- the players need to hold on tight and get ready for a bumpy ride in 2010.

NFL Players Association chief DeMaurice Smith has a tough job ahead. Unfortunately for him, there was no way to predict that ownership would not only have no fear of an uncapped year but would actually embrace it.

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