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Inside the NFL contract that two Steelers won’t sign

Alejandro Villanueva considered walking away from football in 2017. He was 28 years old and beginning business school at Carnegie Mellon. His exclusive-rights free-agent status kept him on league-minimum money despite two years as a starter at left tackle.

So in 2017, Villanueva worked out with the Pittsburgh Steelers but didn’t sign his exclusive-rights tender. Hours before the training camp reporting window expired, the Steelers signed him to a four-year, $24 million deal.nike nfl jerseys cheap paypal

“I can’t say if it’s better to sign now or later,” said Villanueva during this week’s minicamp, entering his third year on that deal. “But betting on yourself, in this business, usually works.”

Intentionally or not, Villanueva set a precedent in the Steelers locker room that at least one player is following.

Steelers cornerback Mike Hilton finds himself in a similar situation, an exclusive rights free agent (ERFA) who refuses to sign the tender, at least for now.5

The two have discussed the matter, Hilton said, and though Hilton isn’t divulging the nature of those talks, he calls Villanueva “a guy I can go to with questions.”

These are shared experiences of a tapped market.

ERFAs are players with expired contracts and two years or fewer of accrued NFL seasons. Teams can retain them on a one-year tender at a low number (around $645,000) with no negotiation and no chance for the player to shop his services. Right tackle Matt Feiler, who started 10 games last season, signed his tender this offseason.

This is a way for owners to keep good undrafted players before they can cash out. Hilton wants out of that scenario after two productive years as a slot corner for Pittsburgh.

But what Villanueva pulled off is “very rare,” said former NFL agent Brodie Waters, a consultant who runs ESPN’s Roster Management System. He estimates fewer than 10 players under the current collective bargaining agreement have landed new deals during their ERFA year.cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

“The player has zero leverage other than retiring,” Waters said. “It would be extremely rare for the Steelers to do anything unless they identify they really want him, and he’s willing to take a below-market deal. If he’s played two years, they’ve got him for two more years. There’s not a lot of incentive to do something.”