The Steelers have picked up injured linebacker Ryan Shazier's contract in each of the past two seasons knowing that he would never play a down for them in those years.
They could do so because Shazier's rookie contract simply rolled over each year, meaning they could pay him the minimum league salary as he continued to rehab from a devastating spinal cord injury suffered in Cincinnati late in the 2017 season.
But Shazier's contract won't toll again in 2020, meaning the Steelers have to figure out a way to keep him around beyond what they've done the past couple of seasons.
"We have to sit down with Ryan and talk through what the next step will be," team president Art Rooney II said Wednesday. "We haven’t done that yet. There’s more to come in terms of sitting down and figuring out what that next step will be."
The issue is the 27-year-old Shazier continues to hold out hope of returning to the NFL. He has used that as a motivational tool in his workouts as he has continued to progress from being unable to walk to now running.
But if the Steelers are unable to keep him on their roster -- they have simply placed him on the PUP List the past two seasons after tolling his contract -- they would have to employ him in a different fashion to allow him to continue to use their facilities and still be around the team.
Shazier has been a constant at the team's facilities both during the season and offseason, working out, sitting in on coaching meetings and practices.
However, if the team places him on payroll in another capacity, it means his playing days, at least with the Steelers, are over. Teams cannot "hide" an injured player in another capacity in their organization and then activate him at some point in the future.
"We’d love to have Ryan back in some capacity," Rooney said. "I don’t want to get ahead of Ryan. I don’t want to say he’s given up on the idea of being a player. He’s here every day working out. He’s a remarkable young man, a determined young man. I don’t want to speak for him in terms of where he wants to go from here."
Steelers GM Kevin Colbert didn't sign a contract extension prior to the 2019 season, choosing to allow his contract to run out after the 2020 draft.
Colbert, 63, said in August that he'd like to take things year to year moving forward.
Rooney said Wednesday he expects Colbert to return next season.
"I’m optimistic about Kevin being back next year," Rooney said. "We have to get something done as far as an extension. We’ll address that as soon as we can."
VOLUNTEERING FOR MEXICO
Rooney said though the Steelers haven't played an international game since 2013, when they traveled to London to play the Vikings, they continue to express a desire to the powers that be in the league office that they would like to play a game in Mexico.
The Steelers have a large fan base in that country, though they have only played there once, in a preseason game in 2000.
"We continue to raise our hand and say we’re interested in playing a game in Mexico," Rooney said. "But who knows? I don’t even know if they’ve announced if there is a game in Mexico this year. All the pieces of the puzzle have to fit to even have a game down there. Our first choice is to play a game in Mexico, if we have a choice."
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