Cameron Heyward contract: Projecting what an extension with Steelers might look like

The Steelers don't want Cameron Heyward playing anywhere else; Here's what a contract extension could look like.
Pittsburgh Steelers v Indianapolis Colts
Pittsburgh Steelers v Indianapolis Colts / Justin Casterline/GettyImages

One thing that has never changed about the Pittsburgh Steelers is that this franchise values players who can start and finish their careers with this organization. Unless their stars don't want to be here anymore (like Antonio Brown), they have a tendency to be loyal to a fault when it comes to the best players on their roster.

Over the years, we have seen players like Troy Polamalu, Ben Roethlisberger, and Ike Taylor play their entire professional football careers in Pittsburgh. Other examples of this include former All-Pro offensive linemen David DeCastro and Maurkice Pouncey.

Cameron Heyward could be next in line. But in order to ensure that the All-Pro defensive lineman doesn't jump ship late in his NFL career, the Pittsburgh Steelers may need to give him one final contract extension.

Heyward was drafted right between Pouncey and DeCastro back in 2011, and the Steelers would hate to see him in a different uniform. But coming to terms on a contract extension might not come easy.

Heyward has already expressed on his Not Just Football Podcast that he is not going to take a pay cut to remain in Pittsburgh. This means that Heyward is set to have a cap number of over $22.4 million in the final year of his deal in 202.

Though Heyward wasn't close to healthy in 2023 (he missed roughly half the year with a groin injury), it's hard to argue that his play warrants such a large cap number. His $22.4 million cap hit takes up nearly 9 percent of the team's total cap space in 2024, according to Over the Cap.

The Steelers can lower this number with a contract extension. But what would an extension for Cameron Heyward look like?

Projecting Cameron Heyward's contract extension details

Regardless of his past success, Cameron Heyward cannot expect to reset the interior defensive line market on his new deal. Heyward was drafted all the way back in 2011 (the same year as Patrick Peterson) and he's not the same dominant presence he was a few years ago.

Heyward also turns 35 years old this offseason and is coming off a major soft tissue injury that landed him on IR for half of the 2023 season. This factors into his contract projections.

Chiefs defensive lineman Chris Jones recently reset the IDL market in the NFL by earning a whopping 5-year, $158.75 million extension in Kansas City. At $31.75 million per season, he is now the leader in the clubhouse when it comes to average annual earnings.

Heyward can't expect to see nearly this much in new money average. Instead, Heyward will likely come in between $20 million to $23.5 million in new annual earnings. This would put him in the same group as players like Jeffery Simmons, Daron Payne, and Dexter Lawrence and just below players like Quinnen Williams and Justin Madubuike.

While you could argue that Heyward, when healthy, is still better than some of the names on this list, his age will play a factor. When you project forward, the performance that Heyward will offer at age 35 and beyond won't be what it once was.

For all these reasons, it's reasonable to believe that Heyward could sign an extension with the Steelers in the ballpark of 2-years, $41 million. This extension would allow Pittsburgh to lower his 2024 cap number and push more money into the future -- potentially even tacking on a few voidable years.

It's always a questionable investment to pay this much money to a player at this stage of his NFL career, but this type of contract extension would be nothing new for the Pittsburgh Steelers. They are loyal to their best players and Cameron Heyward has been as good as anyone on their team over the past decade.

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