Steelers can't allow Cameron Heyward to make the rules in contract negotiations

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a business decision to make with one of their best players.
Cameron Heyward, Steelers
Cameron Heyward, Steelers / Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Cameron Heyward is sticking to his guns. After informing listeners on a podcast that he would not be attending Steelers OTAs, nobody was surprised to see him absent as Pittsburgh opened up Organized Team Activities. But Heyward didn't stop there.

On his Not Just Football Podcast, the veteran defensive lineman didn't rule out finishing his NFL career with another organization. Heyward assured fans that he wants 'to be a Pittsburgh Steeler' but that we'll have to 'see what happens.'

Heyward is approaching the 2024 season with business in mind. The former three-time First-Team All-Pro is entering the final year of a four-year $65.6 million contract he signed during the 2020 offseason.

There's no question that Heyward wants to be paid as one of the top interior defenders in the league. While we would love nothing more for one of the best Steelers of this generation to retire in Pittsburgh, Omar Khan can't allow Cam Heyward to make the rules in contract extension talks.

Steelers need to make a business decision with Cameron Heyward

We all know how much Cameron Heyward has done for this organization. The former first-round pick back in 2011 worked his butt off behind a stacked defensive line and eventually became a perennial Pro Bowl player by his seventh season in 2017.

Drafting Heyward was clearly one of the best decisions the franchise made over the past two decades... but it's time to put personal feelings and loyalty to the side. This comes down to running a billion-dollar business, and the Pittsburgh Steelers need to make a financial decision that is best for the future of the team.

Heyward is under contract for the 2024 season, but there is no roster bonus due to him this year. This means that his money is going to come in the form of game checks from his $16 million base salary. Knowing the injury risk without guarantees, Heyward is not going to want to play this season without an extension.

However, from the Steelers' perspective, they have a 35-year-old defensive lineman who landed on IR with a groin injury during the 2023 season. When he was on the field, Heyward was still a menace in run support, but if offered little as a pass rusher -- earning just 2.0 sacks and 3 QB hits in 11 games. projects his annual earnings on a new contract to reach $19.6 million per season, and others speculate that he could be seeking $20-23 million per season in new annual earnings on his next deal. This would put in the range of players like Dexter Lawrence, DeForest Buckner, and Jeffrey Simmons -- all of whom are significantly younger than Heyward.

There's a motto I want the Steelers to live by: you don't pay for past production. This means that you can't give Cam Heyward a deal based on what he did in the past for Pittsburgh; rather, they need to pay for the player they believe they will be getting at age 36 and 37.

Heyward is already operating on borrowed time, and 'Father Time' is undefeated. Instead of throwing loads of guaranteed money at Heyward that would stretch into the 2025 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers would be best to ride it out with their 35-year-old so that Heyward can prove he can stay healthy and not decline in his old age.

If this proves to be the case, the Steelers could throw money at him after the season to ensure that he finishes his career in Pittsburgh. If he regresses or can't stay on the field, they would have the peace of mind of knowing that they made a good business decision.

Of course, Heyward could really stick it to the Steelers by holding out during the season (a la Le'Veon Bell). He could miss the majority of the year and return to the team for the final six games to accrue a credited season and hit the market in 2025. By doing so, however, teams would understand that would have just one full season under his belt since 2023 and will be 36 years old long before the 2025 season.

This is a sticky situation, and I can see arguments from both sides of the fence. If the Pittsburgh Steelers don't cave and give Cam Heyward what he wants, it's going to look like a bad PR move. At the same time, this is a billion-dollar business and Heyward is still under contract. As good as he has been to this organization, Omar Khan and the front office can't let Heyward dictate the terms of a new contract extension.