The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Cameron Heyward has at least a few more years of Pro Bowl-level play in him.
Explanation: As striking as it may seem, Cameron Heyward has already been in Pittsburgh for nine seasons, coming to the team by way of the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft. He has been a full-time starter since early in the 2013 season and hasn’t looked back since, in fact playing some of his best football ever over the course of the past three years.
The number one part of the discussion here is Heyward’s health, and more precisely, his durability. Outside of the extreme outlier that is the 2016 season, Heyward has been a model of consistency. He has not missed a single game outside of that one season, at least due to injury.
That is notable when trying to predict whether or not that durability will be sustainable, and we can call upon two recent examples in Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel, who similarly signed third contracts around the same age, but who’s later years were marred by injury.
Keisel entered the starting lineup in 2006 at age 28. He would miss five or more games in a season twice by his age-32 season. He also had injuries before he was a starter, in fact missing all of his second season in 2003. He would play five seasons after the age of 31, but missed at least four games in most of them.
Smith, on the other hand, never had a significant injury or missed more than a game due to injury until his age-31 season, in 2007. The 2008 season, the Steelers’ Super Bowl run, is the last time he would play more than six games in a season.
Smith was also the epitome of durability before age crept in and wore down his body. It happens to everybody. It’s happening to Ben Roethlisberger now. At such a demanding and physical position as the defensive line, it’s never safe to predict a player being able to play at the highest level into or approaching his mid-30s. He could have a couple more years left before things begin to break down.