With a Steelers rebuild seeming like a certainty, one has to wonder what it will mean for a tenured face of the franchise.
The Steelers are close to rock bottom as a franchise right now. Despite having the franchise’s new face at quarterback, the team is struggling right now and looks like a bottom-five team. It looks like a rebuild is on the table, and the list of safe names can’t be that large. That poses an interesting question, if the Steelers decided to rebuild, is veteran defensive lineman Cameron Heyward safe?
The former first-round draft pick has really come into his own despite a slower start to his career. Now, he is constantly ranked as one of the best defensive linemen in the league and is a difference-maker on defense. He is no spring chicken though, as he is currently 33 years old. A rebuilding team may not be the best place for a player like Heyward.
Why the Steelers may trade Heyward
If this team decides to blow up the roster next season, it will be a sign that they are truly committing themselves to an actual rebuild. Cutting away the fat won’t be easy, but it will give GM Omar Kahn the chance to make this roster his own. Doing so will likely lead to another mediocre season next year though.
While that isn’t the end of the world for some of the stars on the team, that means Heyward will be 35 before realistically being a Super Bowl competitor again. While Heyward has expressed an interest to play past that age, father time can and will catch up to him. While early in the season, he has looked a little more his age this season.
As a top defensive lineman, Heyward possesses a lot of value. While his age will deter some teams from handing out top draft capital, he could realistically land a second-round pick from a top competitor. That kind of draft capital is valuable for a team that will likely have a lot of holes to fill.
Do I think a deal ultimately happens?
Let me be clear, me pondering if Heyward would make it through a rebuild is in no way me demanding the team trades him. Logistically though, there are some valid points as to why Heyward would make sense as a trade candidate.
On the flip side of things, there are a slew of reasons to keep him around. He is a great mentor and member of the community, and despite his age, he is one of the faces of this franchise. It isn’t often that a star player like Heyward gets dealt from the Steelers, and that trend would likely be followed. He certainly doesn’t hurt the team by remaining on its roster.
As well, teams have shown that rebuilds can happen quickly in the NFL. If you play your cards right, it could only take one offseason for a team to get back on track. The Steelers have their quarterback in place and some key pieces elsewhere. A well-crafted rebuild could return this team to its former glory as early as next season.
I will say this: if the Steelers are in a similar boat this time next year, trading Heyward will make a lot more sense. That isn’t due to him (likely), but his window to win a Super Bowl will almost be gone. That decision should be left up to him, as he has earned that right, but if this team can’t compete soon, the last years of his career will be wasted.
The idea of trading a player as beloved as Heyward is almost sacrilegious, but there are some reasons that moving him makes sense. That said, I wouldn’t expect it to happen. The only way I can see the Steelers willingly move him is if the team is once again a bottom feeder next season and he wants to pursue a Super Bowl.