The 2016 season is unfortunately over, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are now embarking upon their latest offseason journey, heading back to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While the postseason is now behind us, there is plenty left to discuss.
And there are plenty of questions left unanswered as well. The offseason is just really the beginning phase of the answer-seeking process, which is lasts all the way through the Super Bowl for teams fortunate enough to reach that far.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the offseason as they develop, and beyond, looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they try to navigate their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.
Question: Would you support a rule change that allows players to become unrestricted free agents after three years?
The pace of the NFL’s evolution in terms of the financial treatment of its players has generally been on a consistent upward trajectory, with the biggest change coming in the early 1990s with the dawn of unrestricted free agency.
Still, only certain players would hit unrestricted free agency, and today, a qualifying player must accrue four seasons of experience before they would be eligible to shop their services to the highest bidder.
The situation with Le’Veon Bell and the many commentaries that I have read from both sides of the aisle got me to pondering this question, however. What if players were eligible to hit the open market earlier in their careers? Specifically, what if restricted free agency were done away with entirely, so that all players with three years of accrued experience would be unrestricted free agents?
While it may not seem like much, a year early into the market could be a big deal financially for many players, and could also increase the likelihood of their being able to hit not one, but two large contracts over the life of their careers.
I don’t really know if there is any upside to this at all for teams—and it may well be unfeasible, considering that rookies drafted today are signed to four-year contracts, so that would have to change—beyond perhaps getting a first-round bust off your payroll a year earlier.
The lack of advantage here for the teams and other complications involved make this question a non-starter, most likely, from the outset, but I think it is an interesting hypothetical to consider. It may even lead to shorter, less lucrative second contracts for players who have not fully hit their stride yet.
It’s also worth noting that many players sign new deals after three years, with Stephon Tuitt being the perfect example. Of course, these are extensions not subject to the open market.