For many NFL players the start of free agency on March 5 will signal a chance to explore the options, visit other teams and see what is out there for them.
For Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton, that date will be uneventful. And that was just what he was hoping for.
Hampton could have become a free agent later this week, but the Steelers and Hampton avoided that when he agreed to a three-year contact.
"It was very important for our organization to have a player of Casey's caliber signed for what we hope is the rest of his career," said director of football operations Kevin Colbert. "Casey has been a big part of our success and we think he has a lot of football left. Plus, we think he's one of our true leaders, and to get this free-agency period kicked off early by getting him locked up, means a lot to our organization."
It means a lot to Hampton too. Hampton, who the Steelers drafted in the first round in 2001, knows how rare it is to play out an entire career with one team and is thankful he has that chance.
"It was real important to me," Hampton said in an interview with Steelers.com, his first comments since agreeing to the new deal. "I think that any player's goal when they go to an organization is to stay with one team throughout their whole career. In this day and time with the salary cap and everything, whenever you are able to stay with a team for as long as I have been able to, it's definitely a big deal."
Hampton likes the core group the Steelers have on defense and has built a strong chemistry with them, making staying put even more important.
"In Pittsburgh you get used to being around guys," said Hampton. "Unlike a lot of other teams Pittsburgh builds through the draft and don't get a lot of guys through free agency. A lot of guys who are here have been here for a long time so you get used to the same people."
With the contract now out of the way, Hampton has set his sights on focusing on the 2010 season.
"That was my main goal to not have anything to worry about, get it out of the way and be full steam ahead and concentrate on nothing but football," said Hampton. "That is all I have to do now."
And his hope is that focus results in a better outcome in 2010 than in 2009, when the Steelers missed the playoffs after winning Super Bowl XLIII the year before.
"You have more hunger to you now," said Hampton. "You know how it feels to be on top of the mountain and you know what it feels like to be on the bottom. With that said we need refocus and do the little things to get us back to the top of the mountain."