It has now been over two years since Ryan Shazier suffered his horrific back injury on Sunday Night Football against the Cincinnati Bengals in 2017. Unsure if Shazier would ever be able to walk again after spinal stabilization surgery, he continues to defy the odds and make progress towards a full restoration to normal life. Whether or not Shazier’s future still holds a glimpse of hope of professional football at the NFL level remains to be seen. But counting Shazier out is not something one should get accustomed to.
In his meeting with local Pittsburgh media on Wednesday, Steelers team president Art Rooney II mentioned Ryan Shazier’s contract situation going into 2020.
Art Rooney II doesn't think Ryan Shazier's contract automatically tolls for 2020. "We have to just sit down with Ryan and look at what the next step is going to be. We haven't quite done that yet." Shazier continues to work out at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on a daily basis.— Joe Rutter (@tribjoerutter) January 15, 2020
After Shazier was injured in 2017, the Steelers still had to pay his salary for the fifth-year option which the had already exercised during the previous off-season. In a wise financial move for both parties, the Steelers moved all but the league minimum salary to a signing bonus for Shazier prior to the 2018 season. By paying Shazier upfront, he was able to use the money right away. But the more important issue was when Shazier‘s contract tolled for 2019, it was at the league minimum amount and not the $8.7 million he received otherwise. Had the Steelers been on the hook for the full amount, they would not have been likely to keep Shazier’s contract on the books.
If you’re curious about what it means for a contract to toll, in essence it is when a team can choose to keep a player for another year if they were on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list for an extended period of the season. How a contract tolls is explained in the Collective Bargaining Agreement as noted below:
Section 2. Physically Unable to Perform: Any player placed on a Physically Unable to Perform list (“PUP”) will be paid his full Paragraph 5 Salary while on such list. His contract will not be tolled for the period he is on PUP, except in the last year of his contract, when the player’s contract will be tolled if he is still physically unable to perform his football services as of the sixth regular season game.
Because Shazier was going into the final year of his contract, the Steelers have the option to continue to keep him at the previous year salary because of the amount of time he spent on PUP. And because the Steelers turned most of Shazier‘s fifth year option into a signing bonus, his contract tolled to where the Steelers could keep him for another season at the league minimum while he was still unable to play. Additionally, Shazier was able to continue to get treatment and rehabilitation through the Steelers because he was under contract.
According to Art Rooney II, it appears Shazier‘s contract will not toll for 2020. With that said, I’m sure the Steelers would like to continue to keep Shazier a part of the Steelers family as well as help him in continuing his rehabilitation. But in what way can the Steelers sign Shazier for next season?
First and foremost, Shazier’s health will be one issue to be discussed. As much as he would like to play in the NFL again, a difficult and realistic conversation needs to occur between Shazier, his representatives, and the Steelers front office. Whether or not the Steelers choose to keep Shazier around while taking a small hit on the salary cap may be the most important issue.
The other option available is one many Steeler fans have already expressed interest in having come to fruition. The Steelers could always offer Shazier a position as part of the coaching or front office staff. While it would be wonderful to keep Shazier a part of the organization, as long as he still has hopes in returning to the NFL it may not be his best option.
So exactly what the Steelers will do Ryan Shazier for 2020 is still unknown. Important conversations need to occur in order to better understand the situation for all parties involved. But most importantly, the issue needs to be one which both parties are ready to address at the appropriate time. With his comments made on Wednesday, it appears Shazier’s status with the Steelers is an issue in which team president Art Rooney II will be looking to discuss in the near future.