Cam Heyward's contract leverage goes beyond his leadership and playing abilities

The Steelers can't afford to lose Cam Heyward, but it's not just because he's an all-franchise talent.
Pittsburgh Steelers v Seattle Seahawks
Pittsburgh Steelers v Seattle Seahawks / Conor Courtney/GettyImages

The contract saga between franchise defensive tackle Cam Heyward and the Pittsburgh Steelers front office continues. Heyward reported to OTAs for the first time and spoke with the media to detail his perspective on the contract negotiations.

“I’m looking to be here,” Heyward said. “The value is what we decide. For me, I want to be valued at my position. I understand I came off a rough season, but I don’t think it’s a step down from where I can play. I’m still at the top of my game. I’m still a top-five player at my position. I play the run and the pass. I bring leadership. It’s not anything I discount.”

A notable portion of the fan base has expressed disinterest on social media in paying a 35-year-old defensive lineman top dollar. After all, the top players at Heyward's position, including himself, are making upwards of $15 million per year. A few more years of that would, understandably, be tricky to navigate for the Steelers salary spreadsheet.

Between his age and recent injury history, it wouldn't be surprising for the front office to agree with that vocal portion of the fanbase for once.

That said, Heyward is right to hold his on-field performance in play and use it as leverage. He displays his worth every snap he is on the field. But the leverage he would never acknowledge nor use publically is his biggest asset.

It isn't Heyward's status as an all-time player for the franchise, the 2023 Walter Payton Man of the Year award, or any other superfluous reason that will dictate why the Steelers will sign him to an extension at some point.

It's because they don't have any other choice. The Steelers simply aren't ready for life after Cam Heyward.

While general manager Omar Khan and his assistant Andy Weidl have made a point to rebuild the trenches of the roster, most of that attention has gone to the offensive side of the ball.

2023 second-round standout Keeanu Benton and 2024 rookie Logan Lee, a sixth-round pick, are the lone additions for the defensive side of the ball up front through the draft. Reserve

That leaves Larry Ogunjobi, Montravius Adams, Isaiahh Loudermilk, and DeMarvin Leal as the lone veterans in a thin defensive line group.

While Benton oozes potential, he's the only piece guaranteed to be a true contributor in 2025. That's an alarming sentence.

The Steelers know they need to invest more into the defensive line, but they can't cut off their nose to spite their face here. Heyward should be on the roster not only for legacy's sake but to ease the transition into a new age on the Steelers' defensive front.

Letting Heyward walk would be a tough pill to swallow under the best of circumstances, but with the current makeup of the defensive line, it'd be nothing short of roster malpractice.