Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II didn’t necessarily talk about a lot of specific players during his interview with the media yesterday, but a number of them were players who were not on the field for the team’s season finale, whether it was Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, or Chris Boswell. Then there was Ryan Shazier.
Shazier is around 13 months removed from a life-changing spinal injury that left the future of his quality of life—let alone his playing career—very much in jeopardy. At the time it wasn’t known if he would even ever be able to walk again. These days, he is jogging, and as Rooney confirmed, it is still his desire to try to return to the football field as a player.
The Pro Bowler spent all of the 2018 season on the team’s Physically Unable to Perform List, but was an active presence in every way except on the field. He was there in the meetings, on the sideline during games, and even in the gym.
Shazier was under his fifth-year option last year, but the team restructured it to move his base salary to the minimum, converting the rest into a signing bonus, a prescient move that would allow his contract to toll into 2019 under the minimum salary, rather than at more than $8 million. Rooney wasn’t sure about the status of his contract, but he was sure of Shazier’s plans.
“Ryan’s intention is to continue to rehab with the goal of being back on the field as a football player”, he told reporters.” And so that’s the approach we have, we’re going to continue to work with him and figure out how that works and figure out the contract situation, how that will work”.
Fortunately for him, the contract should sort itself out for the reasons that we have previously laid out. The Steelers should be able to retain him for the minimum salary in a capacity that would allow him to contribute as a player if he should prove capable of doing so. But whether he does or not, he remains an invaluable member of the organization.
“He just continues to be an impressive young man who is making progress beyond what anybody predicted he would make”, Rooney said of Shazier. “He was jogging in the workout room the other day, so I wouldn’t underestimate him, that’s for sure. And we’re excited to continue working with him and hopefully someday he’ll realize his goal”.
There’s no reason to believe that Shazier will be any less of a presence in 2019 than he was last year, which was pretty active. If you watched closely during the broadcasts, it was common to see him firing up his teammates on the sideline, both before and during games, and celebrating along with them.
Could he even take the field with them this year, or ever? The Steelers have proven to be a patient organization in the past, and they’re looking like they are committed to giving him every opportunity to get back on the field, but whether he does or not doesn’t diminish the value that he represents to everybody in that building.