The Pittsburgh Steelers will have a few interesting decisions to make in the coming weeks when it comes to several players set to become unrestricted free agents. Sure, players such as cornerback Cameron Sutton and defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi are two of those higher profile players within that group and we’ve already spent a lot of internet ink discussing them. But what about some of the lower profile soon-to-be unrestricted free agents the team might want to retain such as safety Terrell Edmunds and tight end Zach Gentry? Might those two players, or even just one of them, possibly warrant retaining via a Four-Year Player Qualifying Contract in the NFL’s CBA?
What exactly is a Four-Year Player Qualifying Contract? Well, if you paid attention to the contract that Edmunds signed last off-season, you should already know the answer to that question. If you didn’t pay attention to the details of that one-year deal, here is a quick refresher.
A Four-Year Player Qualifying Contract is a type of veteran salary benefit deal that can be offered to a player with at least four credited seasons whose contract with a team has expired after being on said team for four or more consecutive, uninterrupted league years prior to his contract expiring. The CBA states that such a player must have been on the team’s 90-man active/inactive list for said seasons (and every regular-season and postseason game).
A four-year player qualifying contract under this CBA benefit is a one-year deal with a base salary of up to $1.35 million more than the minimum base salary for said player. A maximum signing bonus of $152,500 for 2022 and 2023 may also be given as part of that kind of qualifying contract. The contract also comes with a decreased salary cap charge benefit. Under such agreements, only the applicable minimum base salary of a second-year player (not the $1.35 million benefit) is charged against the salary cap. Obviously, the signing bonus amount is also charged against the salary cap.
It should also be noted that teams can only have two players signed to such a Four-Year Player Qualifying Contract in one season. Additionally, the $1.35 million benefit that teams can take advantage of is a total amount. In short, if two players are signed to such contracts, the combined amounts of salary given above the minimum cannot exceed $1.35 million. So, for example, one player could be given $1 million above minimum and the second player can be given $350,000 above minimum. Each player, however, can be given the max signing bonus amount of $152,500.
Last year, Edmunds was the only Steelers’ player signed to a Four-Year Player Qualifying Contract. Based on his credited years last offseason, Edmunds received a $1.035 million base salary in addition to the full benefit amount of $1.35 million. The Steelers also gave Edmunds the maximum signing bonus allowed for such a contract, $152,500.
The result of that deal was Edmunds having a 2022 salary cap charge of just $1,187,500, which was his minimum allowed base salary, $1.035 million, plus his $152,500 signing bonus. The extra $1.35 million did not count against the Steelers’ salary cap because of the deal being a four-year player-qualifying contract. Edmunds, however, earned $2,537,500 in 2022.
Fast forward to this offseason, the Steelers SHOULD once again sign Edmunds to yet another Four-Year Player Qualifying Contract. This year, however, and assuming he is once again the only Steelers’ player to sign such a deal, his base salary would be $1.080 million, and he would likely once again receive a maximum allowed signing bonus of $152,500. He would also receive another $1.35 million in benefit pay for such a deal. His salary cap charge, however, would be just $1,232,500 despite him earning $2,582,500.
Now, if the Steelers wanted to also sign Gentry to such a deal in addition to Edmunds, that $1.35 million benefit amount would somehow need to be divided up between the two players. Because of that, it’s probably unlikely that the Steelers will sign two players this offseason to four-year player qualifying contracts and mainly because the deals become less attractive to the two players because of neither receiving the full $1.35 million benefit amount as part of the deal. It’s still possible, mind you, just unlikely.
Both Edmunds and Gentry might believe their offseason market values are greater than $2,582,500 this offseason as well. We’ll see. In the meantime, however, keep it in the back of your mind that a Four-Year Player Qualifying Contract could be a tool used to sign either or both players.
Edmunds, by the way, didn’t agree to his Four-Year Player Qualifying Contract until the middle of April last offseason as he made sure to test the unrestricted free agent market thoroughly before doing so. I suspect he and Gentry might do the same this offseason should neither be re-signed within the first week of unrestricted free agency.
With all of that out of the way concerning Edmunds and Gentry, the Steelers actually have a few more soon-to-be unrestricted free agents that SHOULD qualify this offseason for Four-Year Player Qualifying Contracts. That list of other players includes Sutton, inside linebacker Devin Bush, running back Benny Snell Jr., quarterback Mason Rudolph, and defensive tackle Tyson Alualu.
Sutton won’t be signing such a cheap deal so you can throw him out. Additionally, Rudolph isn’t likely to re-sign with the Steelers this offseason and Alualu might just decide to retire. As for Snell, $2,582,500 might be too much cash to pay him to get him re-signed. That pretty much leaves Bush as the only other plausible option to re-sign this offseason via a Four-Year Player Qualifying Contract outside of Edmunds and Gentry. However, like Rudolph, Bush might be looking to get himself out of Pittsburgh this offseason altogether.
In conclusion, I think there’s a decent chance that the Steelers wind up using a Four-Year Player Qualifying Contract again this offseason to re-sign one of their unrestricted free agents. If they do, I would expect that player to be either Edmunds or Gentry. We’ll likely see for sure within 60 days from now if neither player re-signs within the first few weeks of the start of the 2023 league year in March.