Kevin Colbert was pretty animate that the Steelers retain Casey Hampton this season, even though he tore his ACL during the playoff loss to the Broncos back in January. Hampton’s injured his ACL before back in 2004. He was able to return in 2005 and had an amazing season. But, eight years is worth about 20 in football player years. How effective will he be in returning at the nose?
Hoke retired and there’s really no one who can step up in size to fill the Big Snack’s shoes. It’s pretty obvious that the Steelers are going to snag someone in the draft – even if it’s deep in the 4th round. It’s tough to say if whomever the draft will be able to start immediately. And we all know that Pittsburgh’s defense is not an easy one to learn (but hey it’s JUST the NT we’re talking about here – just fill the gaps and push hard).
On top of the Hampton situation, and weighing metaphorically just as much as Big Snack himself, is the Steelers salary cap problems. The Steelers are just about there and need just a bit more to make a decent swing at either franchising Wallace or waiting until they have to match another team’s offer. Regardless of whether or not you feel the team should even concern themselves with keeping Wallace or take the draft pick, the team will continue to dump money. Whether you are a 14 year vet or returning for your second year, no one is safe it seems from the pink slip. Enter Hines Ward.
Mr. Smiley is a fan favorite and still contributes (though at a much lesser status) to the offense. Wallace, Brown and Sanders – all three of them – greatly matured this past season. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say it wasn’t because Casey Hampton taught them that maturity. More than likely it was due to Ward’s mentorship that these three young (and sometimes cocky) receivers were able to improve their game. I’m not saying that it will all go to
Cleveland hell in a hand basket were Ward dismissed. But his presence on the team and in the locker room is worth the restructure or cut or whatever magical money thing Kahn needs to do in order to keep Ward.
Offense vs. Defense is very much apples vs. oranges. But if Hampton is not 100% when he returns, that means he will be on the sideline. And what is his worth then? How will he mentor the NT draft pick (or Ziggy Hood if possible) – mentor them on how to get fatter? In my opinion (and it’s why I write such things) Ward is the higher value in all of this. He can actually teach these guys a thing or two still. And let’s not forget that it seems he is practically the heart and soul of this team at times on that sideline and on the field. Hampton is due a $4.89 million base salary and counts $8.1 million against the salary cap. I believe that’s more than Ward counts against.
I can be certain of this. If the Steelers ditch Ward, keep Hampton, Hampton returns only to be put on the PUP list for the first 4-5 weeks, and then only returns on a limited basis, I’ll be grinding my teeth so hard I think I’ll instantly get TMJ. In the continual debate of who should stay and who should go, Ward wins out again over another veteran player.