Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Ryan Shazier is not going to be playing football in 2019. The Steelers know that, Shazier know that. But he is going to remain every bit a part of the team as any other player in the locker room.
That was the message from Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert yesterday as he spoke to the media at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine, broaching a number of subjects. Shazier, a two-time Pro Bowler, suffered a severe spinal injury in December 2017 and has been on a long road to a hopeful full recovery since then.
“He knows that. I can’t really speak for him, but I know he still wants to try to play football”, Colbert said. “We’ll support him. There’s no ceiling on what we would ever say to him as far as him wanting to do that. That’s up to him”.
2018 was his fifth season, and as a former first-round draft pick, that meant he was under his fifth-year option worth over $8 million. The team placed him on the Physically Unable to Perform List, where he remained all season, but he was active in meetings and in pretty much every other aspect of the team—including scouting and coaching—outside of playing.
The team restructured his contract last year, turning as much of it as they legally could into a signing bonus that reduced his base salary to the minimum level, perhaps with an eye toward the idea of his contract tolling into 2019 at that base rate.
Colbert said yesterday, however, that they are still waiting for clarification regarding the legality of the process, calling it “a unique situation”. But he said that “Ryan will be part of the football roster in some form or fashion in 2019. We have to figure out what is legal by NFL means. We are in the process of doing that”.
Presumably, if the league determines that his contract will toll but at the option rate, they could release him and re-sign him to a minimum-value contract. He would be an unrestricted street free agent, but presumably he would have no interest in signing with another team, nor would another team have interest in signing him to a player contract.
“If we can find a way that he can do both, and I think we can, we have to get clarification and verification from the league that this will be good”, the general manager told reporters yesterday.
The last milestone in Shazier’s progress that we have learned of is when he began to resume jogging late last year for the first time since his injury. He has done well to control his own story and share the details of his recovery in his own time. Hopefully there is another milestone just around the corner.