Cameron Heyward has been a model player and a model citizen since pretty much the second the Pittsburgh Steelers selected him with the 31st pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. His drafting was almost like a storybook ending, the son of Pitt great Craig ‘Ironhead’ Heyward joining the local professional football team.
While the Steelers haven’t had great postseason success since then—in fact, they’ve only played in eight postseason games over the course of his nine-year career, and went 3-5 in them, going one-and-done in 2011, 2014, and 2017—Heyward certainly can’t be blamed for that.
In fact, now having hit 30, he may be playing the best ball of his career. His three seasons stretch going back to 2017 has been setting a new bar for defensive line play in Pittsburgh, making the Pro Bowl three straight years, with two first-team All-Pro nods, earning both for 2019.
He blew away his previous career high with 83 tackles this year, including 11 for a loss, posting nine sacks, 22 quarterback hits, six batted passes, a forced fumble, and a recovery. He has 29 sacks, four forced fumbles, three recoveries, and 12 batted passes over the last 47 games.
Yet he’s going into the final year of his contract in 2020, and isn’t taking anything for granted. “It’s never a guarantee” that he’s going to get a new deal or extension, he told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review earlier this month. “I don’t know where I even stand next year. I’m an older guy, and this is a young man’s game”.
He may not be comfortable guaranteeing it, or at least verbalizing it. But I am. There’s no way he’s not going to get extended. He is the rock of the defense, arguably the most important player there, perhaps now short of T.J. Watt in significance on and off the field. They just gave 30-year-old Joe Haden a two-year contract extension in August.
“Of course I want to be here. We all want to be here, but no one knows for sure what’s going to happen. We’ll see. I hope things work out”, Heyward said about the business realities of the game. It would certainly be hard to imagine him ever playing anywhere else.
The big man is currently scheduled to yield a cap hit of $13,251,250 for the 2020 season, which includes a base salary of $9.5 million. Whether or not there is a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in place by the time they work on doing his deal could determine how much cap space they can create.
Back in 2015, Heyward signed a five-year contract extension worth $52,281,000 in new money, including a $12 million signing bonus and a $3 million roster bonus. He had his contract restructured in both 2017 and 2018, which elevated his cap hits for future years.