What occurred to Hardy Nickerson, the Buccaneers linebacker who helped change the NFL Free Company endlessly?

Anyone who enjoyed or feared seeing Tom Brady play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can blame Hardy Nickerson.

Almost 30 years ago Nickerson fought for the free hand alongside several other NFL players – including Reggie White, the icon of the Philadelphia Eagles. Without Nickerson spearheading the pursuit of rights, the Buccaneers may not even have reached the playoffs in 2020-21.

This is Nickerson’s story, from the free agent fighter to one of the most formidable characters in Buccaneers history.

Hardy Nickerson played 16 NFL seasons

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Hardy Nickerson, who was selected in the fifth round of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1987, secured a linebacker starting position in his second season.

Nickerson had a total of 426 tackles, 9.5 sacks, five fumbles and five passes in 84 games in six seasons with the Steelers. Pittsburgh free-agent Nickerson in the spring of 1993, and Tampa Bay took the chance to sign him.

It didn’t take Nickerson long to become a fan favorite in Florida. He recorded 926 tackles, nine sacks, seven interceptions, 13 forced fumbles and nine fumble recovery in seven seasons.

As a five-time Pro Bowl selection, Nickerson received the first-team All-Pro award twice and appeared in the second team in 1996 and 1999.

Nickerson ended his career with two seasons in Jacksonville (2000-01) and one in Green Bay, where he completed a total of 86 tackles in 2002 at the age of 37 and forced three fiddles.

Nickerson helped change the NFL’s free agency forever

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made a splash when they signed Hardy Nickerson in March 1993.

Just months earlier, Nickerson – then with the Steelers – filed a lawsuit with Reggie White and Mike Buck, the Eagles’ quarterback, asking for a free hand.

According to the Washington Post, the lawsuit called for a vacancy for all players whose contracts expired after the 1992 season. At the time, Major League Baseball’s freelance agency – which operated on a similar formula – was nearly 20 years old.

In an interview with The Athletic in October 2020, Nickerson considered being one of the “founders” fighting for a true free agency in the NFL.

“I wanted to become a free agent and have the right to go where I wanted to play. I wanted to play on grass, I wanted to play in warm weather, and I wanted to play in a great city. Shucks were things to fight for. We fought for it, and we finally made it, and it worked out pretty well for me. “

Nickerson’s reward for his fight came in the form of a three-year contract worth $ 5.1 million. While that doesn’t seem like much by 2021 standards, Nickerson received a 534% increase from his 1992 salary.

What has Hardy Nickerson done since he retired?

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Hardy Nickerson has been a busy man since his January 2003 final.

Nickerson spent the 2006 season doing radio commentary for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, then under Jon Gruden’s reign. He returned to the NFL a year later to coach Brian Urlacher and the Chicago Bears linebackers.

From 2010 to 2013, Nickerson was the head coach for soccer at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, California before returning to the Buccaneers. Similar to Chicago, Nickerson worked as the linebacker trainer for Lovie Smith in Tampa Bay from 2014 to 2015.

Although he joined Chip Kelly’s 49ers staff in January 2016 to work with linebackers, Nickerson teamed up again with Smith later that year and became defensive coordinator at the University of Illinois.

Nickerson held this role until October 2018 when he resigned on health grounds. Since then he has not held a coaching position anywhere.

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