Aussie punter Jordan Berry almost lost visa, stays in U.S. with Steelers' quick deal

PITTSBURGH -- A little accounting by the Pittsburgh Steelers saved punter Jordan Berry one big headache and a trip out of the country for a while.

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 processed, 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.

The Steelers notified the NFL that Berry would receive the low qualifying tender amount on a one-year deal. Mook Williams, Berry's agent, said he appreciates the Steelers and football administration coordinator Samir Suleiman for being flexible and proactive.

"The Steelers and Jordan worked together on an unconventional challenge to keep Jordan in Pittsburgh," Williams said. "This relieved the stress Jordan would have had to dealt with had he waited until the restricted tenders came out. Both parties came together to be creative on a solution that I’m not sure had happened before. This might set a new industry standard to dealing with those situations with players who are not American citizens."

Berry even consulted with an immigration lawyer to avoid any problems in the future (he expects to become a U.S. citizen once married).

As far as Berry knows, he was a restricted free agent the entire time, though the one-year deal technically made him an unrestricted free agent.

“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.