The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 season is over, already eliminated from the postseason after suffering a 42-21 loss at the hands of Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. They just barely made the postseason with a 9-7-1 record and a little help from their friends.
This is an offseason of major change, with the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger, the possible retirement of general manager Kevin Colbert, and the decisions about the futures of many important players to be made, such as Joe Haden, Stephon Tuitt, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and others—some already decided, some not.
Aside from exploring their options at the quarterback position, the top global priority, once again, figures to be addressing the offensive line, which they did not do quite adequately enough a year ago. Dan Moore Jr. looks like he may have a future as a full-time starter, but Kendrick Green was clearly not ready. Chukwuma Okorafor was re-signed, but Trai Turner was not. James Daniels and Mason Cole were added in free agency.
These are the sorts of topics among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked. There is rarely a concrete answer, but this is your venue for exploring the topics we present through all their uncertainty.
Question: Will Cameron Heyward reach 100 career sacks before he retires?
Although it took him some time to get on the field regularly—it’s not easy when you’re drafted behind established starters, even as a first-round pick—Cameron Heyward was a good player as soon as he stepped onto the field.
But it has been his second act during which he has taken his game to another level. Since missing a chunk of his sixth season in 2016, he has been on a tear. He has made five consecutive Pro Bowls since then, with four All-Pro distinctions, including three first-team All-Pro honors.
In the past five seasons, he has recorded 43 sacks, for example. That is an average of 8.6 sacks per season during that stretch, including 10 last year. During his first four seasons as a starter, beginning in year three (admittedly, he wasn’t a starter immediately in 2013, but was playing more, and in the nickel, with more pass-rushing opportunities), he recorded 22.5 sacks. If you factor in the partial year as a starter, that’s about six sacks per season.
All told, he enters year 12 with 68 career regular-season sacks, and has at least nine sacks in three of the past four years. But he’ll be 33 in May. Even though he remains at or near the top of his game, does he have enough left to hit the 100-sack mark?
100 sacks would be a significant plateau. Five players from his 2011 draft class have already achieved it—Von Miller, Cameron Jordan, J.J. Watt, Justin Houston, and Robert Quinn, with Ryan Kerrigan at 95.5. Heyward is next on that list, but needs 32 more sacks.
Realistically, he would probably have to play four more seasons, through 2025, through his age-36 season, in order to have a good chance of hitting that mark. He would need to average eight sacks per year in that time to hit it exactly.
He is currently under contract only through 2024. He would have to average 11 sacks per season to reach 100 in the next three years, a mark he has reached or bested only once. And, frankly, he is at the age where the bodies of even elite players at his position begin breaking down.
But who the hell, at least outside of Twitter, bets against Cameron Heyward? I’m certainly not going to come out here and say that he’s probably not going to be playing at a high level still at age 36. No player in team history, by the way, has ever recorded 100 sacks, although T.J. Watt will almost surely be the first, two or three years from now (maybe four). James Harrison holds the franchise record at 80.5.