Following the conclusion of his 12th season in the NFL, one in which he showed time and time again he remains one of the best defensive linemen in football even at 33 years old, Pittsburgh Steelers captain Cameron Heyward remains unsure of what the future holds.
Twelve seasons in the NFL with the same franchise is a long time, especially at a rather physically taxing position overall like the defensive line. Add in the $22 million cap hit Heyward will carry at the age of 34 once the 2023 season starts, Heyward knows his time could be coming to a close.
Speaking with reporters after a 28-14 win over the Cleveland Browns at Acrisure Stadium in Week 18 to move the Steelers to 9-8 that brought the highs of a winning season, but the lows of missing the playoffs due to the Miami Dolphins’ win over the New York Jets, Heyward stated — again — to reporters that he doesn’t know what his future looks like with the black and gold, at least when it comes to the franchise’s decision making regarding his tenure.
“I want to take time to think about what’s going on,” Heyward said, according to original reporting via the Tribune-Review’s Chris Adamski. “Obviously, I’d love to be here, but you never know what’s going on in the future. I don’t take this for granted. I’d love to be here, but you don’t know the plans.”
Heyward finished the 2022 season with 10.5 sacks, giving him two straight seasons of 10+ sacks. The 10.5 sacks are also the second-highest single-season total of his career. At 33 years old, he remains an elite-level defensive lineman and a key piece of the Steelers moving forward.
Still, despite knowing he can continue to play at a high level when people at his position typically slow down, Heyward wasn’t assuming anything when it comes to not only his future with the Steelers, but his future in the NFL overall.
Heyward played at an All-Pro level once again and closed out his 12th season in strong fashion, recording 5.5 sacks in the final four games of the season, helping the Steelers go 3-1 down the stretch and remain in playoff contention right until the very end.
He’ll have a big cap hit next season though, and has two years remaining on a four-year, $78 million extension he signed in 2020. Knowing he’s still under contract, Heyward stated he wasn’t considering retirement, but instead deferred to management after the game regarding his future in Pittsburgh.
“It’s the business side of things,” Heyward added, according to Adamski. “It’s the NFL, (which stands for) ‘Not for long.’ I want to be back. I would like to be a Pittsburgh Steeler still. But you don’t know what’s going on in the future.”
While he’s right that he doesn’t know what the future holds, there’s almost a zero sum chance Heyward isn’t a Steeler in 2023. If the Steelers were to cut him, they’d have a dead cap hit of $12,812,500. That’s a high dead cap hit for a player that remains an elite-level player.
Heyward’s comments are rather startling to read, especially after a swing of emotions from elation for a win and a winning season to deflation in missing the playoffs. It’s important to note though that he says this all the time when the season ends. He said it after the Wild Card round loss to the Chiefs in 2021 and raised eyebrows.
The team captain and face of the franchise isn’t going anywhere. Management isn’t moving on from a key foundational piece, especially after the way the team closed the season and the high level that Heyward played at in December and January.