Steelers must re-sign Cameron Heyward before the 2020 season
Cameron Heyward is entering the final year of his deal, and the Pittsburgh Steelers must do everything that they can to lock him up on a new contract.
While the Steelers need to be focusing on who will make the final roster in the coming weeks, Pittsburgh also has a big issue with Cameron Heyward’s expiring contract. As of now, Heyward is slated to be a free agent next year, and the Steelers have to do everything necessary to keep him. To ensure that he doesn’t hit the market next year, the Steelers should do everything they can to extend him before the 2020 season.
There are multiple reasons for this, but the most obvious is the type of player Heyward is. Easily, Heyward is a top tier defender on the defensive line, and he has become a dominant force for the Steelers. He has been elected to the Pro Bowl in each of the last three years as well as earning two first-team All-Pro nods. Combine this with his 29 sacks shows that Heyward is currently in his prime and losing a player like that is almost unthinkable.
Recent contracts dictate his value
Heyward has clearly earned an extension, even if it will be an expensive one. Based on recent contracts from Chris Jones and Kenny Clark, Heyward’s new money average will likely come in between 17.5-20 million per year. For the sake of this post, assume he meets in the middle and signs for around 19 million per year. The Steelers would probably add four new years to his deal, which would give him a five-year contract at 85.5 million dollars total.
Assuming he continues his top-quality play, he would be well worth it. That said, his detractors will point out his age (he will be 32 next year) as a reason to not resign him. While Heyward is a little older, he didn’t become a full-time starter until his third season, meaning he may have a little less tread off his tires. More importantly, defensive lineman can play well into their thirties, as Calais Campbell has shown.
The other thing people will say is the Steelers can’t afford to give an aging Heyward that kind of money with the uncertain cap situation going into next year. While the cap is unlikely to grow, locking up Heyward now can actually help create cap space next year.
The Steelers are known for restructuring contracts, turning a roster bonus, and the majority of their base salary into a signing bonus that then gets spaced out over the remaining years on a contract. While this kicks the can down the road, it allows the Steelers to keep Heyward on the roster at a lower cost than the team would expect.
The other option (besides letting him walk next year) is to franchise tag him next year and try to work out a deal then. With the cap constraints though, fitting the tag would be unlikely. This past year, the DT franchise tag number was just over 16 million dollars. The Steelers wouldn’t be able to restructure that like an extension though, meaning the only way to lower his 2021 cap charge would be to agree to an extension.
On top of this, if JuJu Smith-Schuster plays well, he could be in line for the franchise tag. The Steelers wouldn’t be able to tag both, so getting a deal done with Heyward makes the most sense.
With the Steelers primed for a big season, they have to think that Heyward will have yet another dominant football season. Given the restraints on the cap next year, locking Heyward up on a long-term deal before the season is vital. It gives Pittsburgh the most cap flexibility going into a year that is certain to be unique.