Player: Demarcus Christmas
Position: Defensive Line
Experience: 2 Years
Free Agent Status: Exclusive Rights
2021 Salary Cap Hit: $440,000
2021 Season Breakdown:
How do you get to be a third-year veteran without having ever spent a second of your career on a 53-man roster? Let me introduce you to Demarcus Christmas, a defensive lineman out of Florida State who was originally drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the sixth round in 2019.
Christmas suffered a back injury during his rookie offseason, and he wound up spending the entire year on the Physically Unable to Perform List without ever being activated. He was healthy enough to return the following year, but the Seahawks waived him. He was briefly re-signed to the practice squad in 2020 before being let go after a few weeks.
Later that season, the Steelers signed him to their practice squad on November 7, where he would spend the rest of the year. He showed enough during practices to earn a Reserve/Future contract, but he suffered an injury during the offseason and was waived injured on July 1.
When a player is waived with an injury designation, he reverts to the waiving team’s Reserve/Injured List if he is not claimed (claims being rare for players who are injured). This is what happened to Christmas, who spent all of the 2021 season on the Steelers’ Reserve/Injured List. The salary you see above is a reflection of the split-salary arrangement allowed for in the CBA, a bit of injury protection for teams.
Free Agency Outlook:
Would the Steelers be interested in retaining him? Well, unless his injury was severe, which we have no reason to believe it was, they did decide to keep him on their Reserve/Injured List for the entire season and pay him his split salary amount rather than work out an injury settlement, which would allow them to release him while paying him for the amount of weeks he would be expected to miss due to injury.
As an example of a player who had never played for them whom they kept around through injury because they were interested in him, this is exactly what they did with a rookie Eli Rogers several years ago, who made the team the following year and spent a few seasons with the organization.
Christmas has already spent a couple of months in practices with the team while he was on the practice squad in 2020, and they saw enough to decide that they wanted to bring him back. It wouldn’t cost much to re-sign him, so assuming that he’s healthy, it wouldn’t be a shock if they end up adding him to the roster—though it would be equally unsurprising if they don’t.