In a wild free-agency tale, Berry told ESPN the Steelers signed him a month before his scheduled restricted tender to accommodate his expiring U.S. work visa.
The Australian-born Berry was a restricted free agent but technically unemployed until the team placed tenders on restricted players in early March. With his visa expiring in February, Berry would have had to return to Australia while his work-authorization paperwork was finalized, he said.
Returning to America wouldn’t have been a problem, but Berry, 26, wasn’t sure how long the paperwork would take. Two problems with that: The Steelers start offseason workouts in April, and he’s getting married stateside in May.
“Worst-case scenario, you miss your wedding,” said Berry, set to marry his wife May 10. “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.”
On Feb. 1, the Steelers announced the re-signing of Berry to a one-year deal, which was worth $1.887 million. This month, his salary changed to $1.907 million, the amount for a low restricted tender. Berry said his contract included a clause that his salary would increase to meet the tender he was originally set to receive.
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) February 1, 2018
ESPN left a message with the Steelers on the matter. A source with knowledge of NFLPA contracts said such a sequence is uncommon but teams are sometimes granted club exemptions for special circumstances.
As far as Berry knows, he was a restricted free agent the entire time.
“We did the tender before the tender,” Berry said.
Berry -- who is from Essendon, Victoria, just north of Melbourne -- has been the Steelers’ starting punter for three seasons. The former Eastern Kentucky kicker connected with the Steelers after former NFL executive Steve Ortmayer helped him get a tryout. The team signed him to a three-year, $1.575-million deal, and he beat out Brad Wing for the job.
Returning to Pittsburgh for a fourth year allows him to focus on training, which he does in Pittsburgh full-time, he says.