Free agency is stressful enough for NFL players without having to worry about possibly getting shipped out of the country.
Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com told one of the more unique free agent stories you’ll find, about Australian-born Pittsburgh Steelers punter Jordan Berry. Berry was set to become a restricted free agent, which is a common thing. But it was complicated for Berry because his work visa was set to expire, and he was in danger of having to go back to Australia.
Berry has been the Steelers’ punter for three seasons while on a work visa. Technically, Berry would have been unemployed while waiting for the Steelers’ qualifying offer in March, and his work visa was set to expire in February, Fowler wrote. While football fans know how free agency works, the timing was more than a technicality when it came to his visa. ESPN said Berry was in danger of having to go back to Australia while his work-authorization paperwork was done.
Berry told ESPN he could have easily gotten back to the country once the qualifying offer came in. But it was unclear how long the paperwork would have taken, and the Steelers start workouts in April and Berry was getting married in the United States on May 10.
“Worst-case scenario, you miss your wedding,” Berry said. “So I wanted to get [a deal] done and avoid all of that. We spoke with the guys with the Steelers to see what they could do.”
Give the Steelers credit for helping out. ESPN.com wrote that the Steelers gave Berry a $1.887 million contract extension on Feb. 1. Then his low restricted tender offer was $1.907 million, and a clause in the contract changed his salary to that figure.
The Steelers informed the NFL of the deal. Berry didn’t have to go back to Australia and start the process of getting back to the U.S. in time for his wedding.
“Both parties came together to be creative on a solution that I’m not sure had happened before,” Berry’s agent Mook Williams told ESPN. “This might set a new industry standard to dealing with those situations with players who are not American citizens.”
It all worked out. The Steelers kept their punter, as was the plan all along. Berry didn’t have to go back to Australia. And, presumably, his wedding is still on schedule.
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