Training camp is finally here, even genuine practices. This is the first time all year that we, and the Pittsburgh Steelers, have had the opportunity to take the field in any capacity, which is an all-important step in the process of evaluating your offseason decisions and beginning to put the puzzle together that will shape the upcoming season.
The Steelers are coming off of an 8-8 season, but while they will default to clichés about how you are what your record says you are, they know they have the potential to be much better. Still, they enter training camp with some questions to answer.
They are no different than any team in the NFL in that regard, in any year. Nobody comes to practice as a finished product. So during this series, we are going to highlight some of the most significant storylines that figure to play out over the course of training camp.
Headline: Cameron Heyward waits on an extension
This may not be about the on-field product in 2020, but it is nevertheless a big storyline for training camp this year. Will the Steelers manager to complete a contract extension for Cameron Heyward over the course of the next few weeks?
If they fail to do so, then he will play out the final year of his current contract, which means that, unless the team tries to give him the franchise tag, he will enter the offseason next year as an unrestricted free agent—for the first and probably only time of his career.
Now 31 years old, Heyward has been in the prime of his career over the past three seasons, making the Pro Bowl each year, and the first-team All-Pro team twice. He has recorded 29 sacks over that time, and finished the 2019 season with a career-high 83 tackles.
But the Steelers, unlike other teams, have a policy in place against negotiating new contracts with players during the season. The Baltimore Ravens got a new deal done with Marcus Peters during the 2019 season, for example. Pittsburgh opposes this practice based on prior experience.
After this season is through, Heyward will have spent a decade in Pittsburgh. He has made it very clear that he would like to spend his entire career in Pittsburgh, but he knows what failure to get a deal done now means for the future.
The Steelers are already over the salary cap floor for 2021 without Heyward even on the books, and needless to say, his cap number will be not insignificant. Still, the feel remains that the two sides will work something out before the regular season begins, which keeps their defensive captain in the building, hopefully for the remainder of his career.