Cameron Heyward will be turning 32 on May. He just played his 10th NFL season, even if he did make it to the Pro Bowl and All-Pro List (albeit second-team this year) for the fourth year in a row. Even though he just signed a new contract extension last year, you do begin to wonder how much longer you have left when you reach this phase of your career.
Heyward does continue to play at a high level. Last season, over 15 games—he was held out of the season finale in order to rest him for the postseason—he recorded 54 tackles with seven for loss, four sacks, and 19 quarterback hits, along with an interception and three passes defensed. The fact that those numbers are somewhat pedestrian by his standards is more a testament to the level of play that he has put up in recent years.
At the same time, he doesn’t play the game in order to achieve individual success. He plays for trophies. And he knows that the clock is ticking, not just for himself as an individual, but also for this particular Pittsburgh Steelers group collectively.
“Whoever’s left—I only have a couple of cracks left at this thing, so I’ve got to make this thing worth it in the end”, he said shortly after the season ended on the WDVE Morning Show. “I feel like I’ve had a good career, but there’s a lot of work to be done, and I’m not satisfied with where we’re at. It was a good season in some sorts—we reached our goal of making the playoffs—but we didn’t do anything in the playoffs”.
Who knows how many more years Heyward might have left? Technically speaking, he is under contract for the next four years, which would put him through his age-35 season, a not unreasonable number for a player of his caliber at his position. Calais Campbell of the Baltimore Ravens will be 35 in 2021.
Since being drafted, the Steelers have reached the postseason six times in 10 years, but have only gone 3-6 during that time, winning at least one postseason game in only two different seasons. They won a Wildcard game in 2015, and then won in the first two rounds in 2016 before succumbing to the New England Patriots in the AFC Conference Championship.
Heyward will, of course, be watching the Kansas City Chiefs host the Buffalo Bills today to see which of them will be representing the conference in the Super Bowl. Hopefully the whole team is watching, to see what they’re missing, and to be fired up to make up whatever the deficit is that can take them there.