ESPN reporter Adam Schefter reported earlier today that unsigned players with four or more accrued seasons are expected to become unrestricted free agents in the next collective bargaining agreement. If that indeed is the case, tackle Willie Colon, tight end Matt Spaeth, cornerback William Gay and punter Daniel Sepulveda will all likely be considered unrestricted free agents.
The Steelers tendered all four players prior to the lockout starting just in case the 2010 free agency rules would be used again in 2011. Colon has 5 years accrued service and missed out on free agency last year because of the 2010 rules that made players with only 4 and 5 years accrued time in the league restricted free agents. Spaeth, Gay and Sepulveda only have 4 years accrued in the league.
Cornerback Anthony Madison and tackle Johnathan Scott are also 5 year accrued players whose contracts were up following the 2010 season, but it was never reported whether or not either of the two received tender offers from the Steelers. Regardless, it looks like both will be unrestricted free agents now.
Quarterback Dennis Dixon and tackle Tony Hills also received free agent tenders prior to the lockout beginning, but because both only have 3 years accrued time in the league; both will still be considered restricted free agents whenever the free agency period begins. They can entertain contract offers from other teams, but the Steelers reserve the right to match the offer or receive a corresponding draft pick that matches the round each was drafted in, should the Steelers decide not to match. Dixon was drafted in the 5th round and Hills in the 4th.