After initially having his request to be released denied, WWE finally acquiesced to Andrade's demand and let him out of his contract late on Sunday night. By all reports unhappy with WWE and unused on television since October, there's no reason why Andrade shouldn't have wanted out. Initially, it seemed that WWE's initial reluctance to give him what he wanted was yet another example of the company's sometimes head-scratching handling of its outsized roster. However, WWE reversing course on Andrade and releasing him might indicate it is becoming more open to granting these types of requests.
Despite their talent, experience and fan support, many WWE Superstars find themselves in a similar position as Andrade, with no creative direction, no matches on television, no storylines and no momentum. Outside of Andrade, the likes of Aleister Black, Ricochet, Keith Lee, Drew Gulak, Bo Dallas, among others, have not had any significant pushes as of late (or are otherwise only seen chasing R-Truth around for the 24/7 Championship, not a particluarly featured spot).
While it is fine for WWE to not use all of the talent they have available, given its large roster and finite amount of television time, those who are unhappy should be able to request their releases and have them promptly granted. There is no reason for WWE, or any company, to hold onto contracted talent who don't want to be there, particularly if there's nothing for them to do. WWE gains nothing by denying these requests and preventing pro wrestlers from doing the work they love to do — in-ring work, promo work and everything being a pro wrestler entails — serves no one.
While it is understandable that WWE would not want its released talent to go to a competitor, whether it be AEW, IMPACT or anywhere else, retaining anyone out of fear is not a sound strategy. The good news is that WWE seems a bit more flexible about releasing talent than it has in the past, when release requests were repeatedly denied and contracts often saw time added (using time off for injury as a way to do so) in seeming retaliation.
The other good news, as far as Andrade is concerned, is that he reportedly does not have a non-compete clause, so he is free to sign anywhere he wants at any time he wants, dependent upon which companies have interest. Ultimately, WWE would be better off to identify its performers who have no creative momentum and are dissatisfied working there and allowing them to move on. With WWE Superstars being independent contractors, they should have the choice to leave. WWE may have softened its approach when confronted with a situation like Andrade's, which could in turn be good news for others who request their releases in the future.
What comes next for Andrade?
As far as the (now-former) Andrade, his services are doubtlessly in high demand. He's a decorated international champion and, at age 31, still very much in the prime of his career. But that fact, and the lack of a non-compete clause, does not necessarily mean that he will return to the ring quickly.
As Dave Meltzer noted earlier this week, CMLL — where Andrade, as La Sombra, had his earliest success — "is not really running anything," adding, "[t]here's probably no money there." NJPW, where La Sombra headed as a CMLL representative (he worked in both promotions simultaneously) could be an option, as, per Meltzer, "Takaaki Kidani loves him." But "[a]gain, it's one of those things, like, what's their budget like?" AEW, too, could come calling, especially after WWE also released Andrade's former manager Zelina Vega (Thea Trinidad) last year. The two make for compelling television and both have serious in-ring skills.
But AEW's roster itself is large and growing, with a number of talents mostly plying their trade on the company's two YouTube-based shows, AEW Dark and AEW Dark: Elevation. Dynamite is but two hours of television a week. Further, AEW keeps courting criticism with each passing signing of former WWE talent. Bringing in Andrade would likely keep that train rolling. And while it likely doesn't matter much to AEW as a company, it would mean, by necessity, that La Sombra would bump a performer or a storyline off its main show.
Now, there's no denying he would be a draw in AEW. But that company is now facing its own issues with roster bloat, much like WWE. Clearly, Andrade is going to pick his spot and likely has many options avaiable to him. AEW seems like a natural fit, roster size notwithstanding, but given his international experience and appeal, he can do just about anything. WWE might not have recognized that, but by giving him his professional freedom, Andrade will eventually end up somewhere he is wanted.