Ryan Shazier hasn’t played in an NFL game since sustaining a severe spine injury 12 weeks into the 2017 season. Since undergoing spine stabilization surgery shortly after suffering the injury, the Steelers‘ two-time Pro Bowl linebacker has made significant progress in his recovery. Shazier, the team’s former first-round pick, has spent the past two seasons as an unofficial coach for the Steelers while also serving as a mentor for the team’s linebacker corps.
When it comes to Shazier’s future, Steelers GM Kevin Colbert told reporters on Thursday that the team will continue to support Shazier’s hopes of continuing his career. Shazier, who was on the Steelers’ reserve/PUP list for the 2019 season, is slated to become a free agent when the league’s new year begins on March 18. It does appear that the Steelers will find a way to keep him on their roster, in some form or fashion, in 2020.
“Ryan is still rehabbing,” Colbert said, via Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider. “We watched some footage of his rehab — where he stands right now compared to where he was last year — and it was significant improvement. We’re never going to take that away from Ryan. We’ve always told him we’re never going to put a ceiling on it. When Ryan becomes healthy enough to play this game, which is his goal, we’ll make that decision and he’ll make that decision at that point.”
The Steelers could elect to sign Shazier to a one-year, $820,000 contract, the minimum one-year salary for a player who has six years of service. According to Spotrac, Shazier has earned $18,751,253 during his time with the Steelers. Following his first Pro Bowl selection in 2016, the Steelers picked up Shazier’s $8.718 million fifth-year option heading into the 2017 season. In May of 2018 (following his injury), the Steelers converted $8.26 million of that money into a signing bonus for salary cap purposes before tolling his contract in 2019. The Steelers also provided Shazier with his regular medical insurance.
Last month, Steelers president Art Rooney II said that the Steelers would find a way to keep Shazier for the 2020 season.
“We have to just sit down with Ryan and look at what the next step is going to be,” Rooney said, via Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “We haven’t quite done that yet.”
Before his injury, Shazier was growing into one of the NFL‘s best young inside linebackers. Pittsburgh’s first-round pick in the 2014 draft, Shazier earned Pro Bowl status in 2016 while helping the Steelers advance to the AFC Championship Game. In 2017, he was in the running for the Defensive Player of the Year award before sustaining his injury. Without Shazier, the Steelers, who were 9-2 at the time of his injury, sorely missed his presence, as Pittsburgh was run over by Jacksonville in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs.
Following the injury, Shazier spent more than two months in the hospital before beginning outpatient therapy. He quickly showed significant signs of progress, as he began walking on his own before the Steelers headed to Latrobe for the next year’s training camp. Along with doing his rehab sessions at home, Shazier would also do some of his work at the Steelers’ facility while taking part in Pittsburgh’s draft preparation. He has also worked with the Steelers’ linebackers for the past two seasons that included one-on-one work with Devin Bush, Pittsburgh’s first-round pick in last year’s draft (10th overall). Bush evoked memories of Shazier, recording 109 tackles, four fumble recoveries (returning one for a score) and two interceptions. His play helped the Steelers’ defense finish fifth in the league in scoring, third in pass defense, ninth in third down efficiency and sixth in red zone efficiency.
“He’s just a big brother for me,” Bush said of Shazier during an interview on 105.9 The X. “He’s there whenever I need him. We text, we talk, we talk about life, we talk about football. He’s like, ‘Anytime you need anything, anytime you need to talk about anything, I’m willing to help and I’m here.'”
Along with his rehab and time with the Steelers, Shazier also married his longtime girlfriend in 2019 while welcoming the birth of his second son last January. He also returned to school this past fall to complete his undergraduate work at the University of Pittsburgh. Shazier, who has dipped his toes in several local businesses following his injury, said last fall that he eventually wants to earn a master’s degree in business.