Any questions about nose tackle Casey Hampton returning for the 2012 season after major knee surgery likely have been answered.
Hampton, who will be 35 when the regular season begins, has restructured the final year of his three-year, $21 million contract that was scheduled to pay him $4.89 million in base salary and a $1 million workout bonus in 2012. He was scheduled to count $8,057,000 against the cap.
The move not only helps the Steelers create approximately $3 million more under the $120 million salary cap; it all but assures that the five-time Pro Bowl nose tackle will return for his 12th season.
With the release of wide receiver Hines Ward and defensive end Aaron Smith, Hampton is the longest-tenured player on the team.
Typically, players who agree to restructure their contract do so with the understanding they will be on the team that season. General manager Kevin Colbert said last month he expects Hampton to be with the Steelers in '12, even though he is coming off surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. It is the second time Hampton has had ACL surgery on that knee.
Hampton had ACL surgery on his right knee in '04 and returned to have one of his best seasons and be named the team's co-Most Valuable Player. But Hampton was seven years younger then and the injury occurred in October, giving him three extra months to rehabilitate the knee.
This time, Hampton was injured in the season-ending playoff loss in Denver and had surgery Jan. 27. His impending return might mean the Steelers will concentrate more on finding a long-term replacement for inside linebacker James Farrior with the No. 1 pick in the draft.
Hampton is the latest Steelers play to restructure his contract to help the team create more cap room.
Previously, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, tackle Willie Colon, cornerback Ike Taylor and linebackers Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley restructured their deals. The Steelers also released Ward, Smith, Farrior, Chris Kemoeatu, Arnaz Battle and Bryant McFadden.
Those moves brought them approximately $10.5 million under the $120 million salary cap before Hampton's deal was restructured.
But, the Steelers used $9 million this week to tender offers to six restricted free agents, including $2.7 million to Pro Bowl receiver Mike Wallace.
Gerry Dulac: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @gerrydulac.