Q. The deadline for applying the franchise and transition tags is Feb. 25. Are you negotiating with any of your own players who can become free agents on March 5?
A. We're still in the process of evaluating outside free agents, which will go until Feb. 19, and I don't anticipate any serious negotiations until we've completed all of our evaluations. Then we'll know what we're dealing with internally and externally. We are finished with evaluating our own guys, and now we have to look at what free agency might hold.
Q. There doesn't seem to be much time between the end of your evaluations and the deadline for applying the franchise and transition tags. Is that the case?
A. There will be time. Right now we're not looking at it as being up against the clock.
Q. Who among your own unrestricted free agents do you want to bring back, those unrestricted guys being Charlie Batch, Rocky Boiman, Casey Hampton, Ryan Clark, Nick Eason, Joey Galloway, Travis Kirschke, Willie Parker and Deshea Townsend?
A. The three starters – Casey Hampton, Ryan Clark and that includes Jeff Reed as the starting placekicker – will be the priority. And then with any of the depth guys, we'll see where they stand and where we stand as we move into the free agency period.
Q. Casey Hampton seems pretty adamant about not have the franchise tag put on him. Is that a factor in your decision-making?
A. Not really. Our stance on any tag is that we don't like to use them, but we're never going to say we're not going to use something that has been collectively bargained as a tool in this process. You have an extra tag this year, but the mind-set is that we really don't want to use those. We'd rather be able to do something on a long-term basis with the people we choose to keep.
Q. If you come up to the deadline and don't have a deal done, do you then have to use the tags?
A. Again, we always will have that at our disposal.
Q. Do the tags buy you more time to get a long-term deal done?
A. Sometimes, if you feel you have made progress prior in your negotiations to that point. Sometimes you'll be at an impasse, and you may feel you're not going to get a long-term deal done. So you go into it saying it's a one-year deal.
Q. Have you determined what tenders you are going to give to your restricted free agents, with those guys being Carey Davis, Willie Colon, William Gay, Daniel Sepulveda, Matt Spaeth and Darnell Stapleton?
A. No. We're still in the evaluation process of other free agents. Once we get through that, we'll better understand the moves we want to make on our own free agents, with the possibility of tags, or long-term deals or what tenders we might put on guys.
Q. Are there any of your own free agents you definitely will not bring back in 2010?
A. We haven't ruled anybody out, no. Sometimes they'll rule themselves out by signing elsewhere, or over the course of free agency maybe we sign a player from another team that might eliminate somebody. But right now, we don't know what we're dealing with.
Q. What kind of pool of free agents is it going to be, based on all teams having an extra tag this year?
A. It's not as deep as it has been, because there are a lot of players now who are restricted free agents and would have been unrestricted free agents under the old rules. It's a much deeper restricted free agent market than it's ever been.
Q. With this being an uncapped year, do you see this as an opportunity for the Steelers to do more in free agency?
A. No. We will operate as we always have. We will operate as if we have a salary cap. You don't know what you're going to be dealing with, because nobody has been in an uncapped year since 1993. No one knows how this will play out, and then when there is a new deal you don't know what the rules are going to be. You don't want to have to un-do something that you just did. You can't predict, and that's why we have chosen to approach this as though we do have a salary cap. In our thinking, that's a common sense way to approach things.
Q. So then, what's your cap number this year?
A. You'll sit back and try to predict what the cap would have been. We're really doing a lot of guesswork, and it's not a hard cap, but more of an approach. It's going with the things that make sense within your own team dynamics.
Q. Is it your opinion an uncapped year will not result in a free-for-all among teams?
A. It's hard to predict how other teams will operate, and we don't concern ourselves with that as long as we're doing business the way we feel is best.
Q. Will that approach put you at a competitive disadvantage?
A. We don't know.
Q. What are your priorities, position-wise, going into the offseason?
A. This sounds generic, but I don't think there is any position, except for quarterback, where we couldn't improve the depth. That's what we're looking at here, depending on what happens as free agency unfolds. If we lose some starters, maybe we have some starters in-house and maybe we don't, but I think you're looking at adding depth.
Q. If all 22 starters from the end of 2009 are back, is it your assessment that all of them are good enough to be starters in 2010?
A. If you begin the next season with the same starters with whom you ended the previous season, you might expect the same results. We were a 9-7 team. Sure, some players will improve and some players will regress, and you always hope the improvements out-weigh the regressions. Then you hope the players you add will improve the depth and competition.
Q. Where is the process of extending the contracts of Santonio Holmes and LaMarr Woodley, guys going into the final years of existing deals?
A. That's most likely beyond free agency and the draft. That far down the road gets even more unpredictable in terms of what the rules might be.
Q. Will you bring Charlie Batch back?
A. The starters are the priority. Charlie Batch has been a very important part of this team, and we certainly hope he remains a part of it.
Q. Have any of your own prospective free agents said he wants to explore his options elsewhere?
A. Not to my knowledge.