Cameron Heyward wanted to retire as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Barring unforeseen circumstances, he will now most likely get that opportunity, after he agreed to terms on a new five-year contract with the team, which includes the current 2020 season, worth a total of a reported $75.1 million.
In agreeing to terms on this deal, which is supposed to include $65.6 million in new money, averaging out to a new-money average of $16.4 million per season, he becomes the highest-paid defensive player over the age of 30 in the history of the game.
If the reported details are accurate, he is now the 21st-highest-paid defensive player in the NFL right now based on new-money per-year averages, slotting just ahead of Geno Atkins of the Cincinnati Bengals, making $16.3 million per season, and just behind the trio of Chandler Jones, Za’Darius Smith, and Byron Jones, all making $16.5 million per season.
He is not far behind J.J. Watt, who signed a six-year, $100 million deal back in 2014, which at the time was the largest defensive contract in NFL history. Watt is roughly the same age as Heyward, but his deal was signed long before he was in his 30s, and runs through 2021.
There is a notable caveat here, because Cameron Jordan last year signed a three-year contract extension averaging $17.5 million in new money per season. At the time of signing, he was 29 years old, but he turned 30 before the 2019 season began, so in actuality, Heyward’s status as receiving the largest new contract over the age of 30 for a defensive player is only somewhat by technicality.
Not that it matters where he slots in. I’m sure ultimately he doesn’t particularly care exactly where he is relatively to what his immediate peers are making as long as it’s in the same ballpark. What he’s more interested in, other than winning championships, is recognition for his play.
He was snubbed for the 2010s All-Decade team. He finished much lower on the NFL Top 100 Players list (or higher, rather, depending on how you look at it) than he felt he should have been. He has mentioned both of these things as fuel that he will use to have his best season yet in 2020.
And he is already coming off arguably his best season, if not his second-best, posting nine sacks, a career-high 83 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 23 quarterback hits, six passes defensed, and a forced fumble and recovery.
And he did the vast majority of his damage without Stephon Tuitt, who was injured early in the sixth game of the season. Having a healthy Tuitt wrecking things in the middle alongside him will only make each of them more potent, individually and as a duo. Tuitt got paid a few years ago. Now Heyward has his big cash-in day, on his third contract with the franchise that drafted him 31st overall in 2011.