Steelers' Ryan Shazier: Next CBA should address rookie contracts

PITTSBURGH -- Lengthy rookie contracts shouldn’t stop NFL stars such as Odell Beckham Jr. and Aaron Donald from wanting new contracts, fellow 2014 first-rounder Ryan Shazier says.

The New York Giants wide receiver and the Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle are among the game’s best players, but they aren’t due to become free agents until 2019 because of the fifth-year-option system that applies only to top picks.

“At the end of the day, if you’re playing at that level, you should be able to get that opportunity,” said Shazier, the 15th pick in that class who saw his option year picked up by the Pittsburgh Steelers. “At the end of the day, that’s between you and the team. If the team wants to do that, it’s great. ... If you play at that level, you should be able to re-up whenever you want to.”

Beckham and Donald, selected 12th and 13th overall, respectively, in 2014, are playing on four-year rookie deals worth more than $10 million overall. Both want new, significantly larger contracts after three seasons, which has been uncommon for first-rounders under this collective bargaining agreement.

Top defensive veterans now make $100 million-plus, and Donald easily falls into that class. Beckham’s new deal might surpass the recent four-year, $68 million extension the Steelers gave receiver Antonio Brown.

Shazier, an emerging star linebacker for Pittsburgh after making the Pro Bowl last season, said he hasn’t thought about his contract. In recent years, the Steelers have extended first-round picks Cameron Heyward and David DeCastro after four seasons. Shazier knows the Steelers have a system in place and he respects it.

But the bigger question is whether first-round picks will soon have equal leverage after three years to that of second-round picks such as Miami Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry and Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, who are working on new deals before hitting free agency in 2018.

“Yeah, that kind of sucks,” Shazier said of the system. “Sometimes guys have to wait five years. Other guys don’t. But that’s what they agreed on in the past. Next time we’ve just got to do a better job of structuring what we want to do. At the end of the day, if you play at a high level, things should pan out for you.”

The Steelers likely will want to extend Shazier next offseason, but after he missed 14 games over his first three years, Shazier’s focus is playing a full season and maximizing his All-Pro potential.

“I feel like I have the capability of being one of the best players in the NFL,” Shazier said. “People can’t really see what I can do when I’m not on the field. Your best ability is availability.”