Steelers can't offer the longevity Cameron Heyward seeks in contract extension

Cam Heyward wants to play three more seasons in the NFL, but here's why Pittsburgh can't afford to give the former All-Pro what he's looking for.
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To everyone's surprise, Cameron Heyward showed up for the final week of Steelers OTAs. This was an unexpected gesture and many fans were quick to assume that a contract extension was close to being reached. However, Heyward assured the media this was not the case.

Heyward's attendance at Organized Team Activities was a welcomed sign. The veteran wants to be the 'best player and best leader' he can be. But just because he showed up to OTAs doesn't mean a deal is getting done anytime soon.

Heyward reiterated that he wants to play three more years, per Brooke Pryor of ESPN.

As dominant as the three-time First-Team All-Pro defender has been in the past, the Pittsburgh Steelers are in no position to grant this request.

Steelers can't afford to give Cam Heyward a three-year extension

Financially, the Steelers could find a way to make this work. But that doesn't mean they can 'afford' to take a gamble locking up an aging player to a multi-year contract that includes lots of guaranteed money.

Heyward expressed that he believes he is still a top-five player in the NFL at his position. When we last saw him healthy in 2022, you could certainly make the case that this was a true statement. But what we witnessed last year shouldn't give the front office much confidence.

As a 34-year-old in 2023, Heyward suffered a severe groin injury just 14 snaps into the season-opener against the 49ers. He would quickly land on IR and would not suit up again until Week 9. Open his return, Heyward didn't look like his usual dominant self. He recorded just 2.0 sacks in the final 10 games, and in the last five contests, Heyward didn't even register a QB hit.

It's understandable that Heyward's up to speed in the second half of the season... but older players often have a tougher time bouncing back from injuries.

Now there are numerous factors at play. In addition to being a 35-year-old player entering a contract year, Heyward is also coming off a season in which he suffered a major injury and lacked production when he was on the field.

Regardless of these circumstances, the former Pro Bowler is searching for a contract in the ballpark of $20 million per season -- a number the Steelers simply cannot explore.

It's not hard to understand why others at the position have made $20+ million per year on their new contracts. Though they are all considered among the best players at their position, there's really only one other factor that you need to consider.

They say that 'age is just a number', but that expression doesn't fly when you are trying to run a billion-dollar business. If the Steelers were to give Heyward a three-year extension, they would be playing him for what he will offer this team at ages 36, 37, and 38 (though it's unlikely he will make it all the way through his deal).

With an average yearly value of roughly $20 million per season, the Steelers could be looking at $25-30 million in guarantees. They would likely backload this deal and be forced to eat a significant amount of dead money against the cap in the future.

Sure, there's a chance Heyward can hold off father time a bit longer. Perhaps his final three years look something like what Calais Campbell has been able to do in his old age. Even if that proves to be the case, Campbell has been forced to take year-to-year contracts because of his age.

At age 35 in 2021, Campbell signed a one-year, $8 million deal with the Ravens, per Over the Cap. In 2022, Baltimore gave him one more year at $12.5 million. Then in 2023, coming off a strong season at the age of 36, Campbell was forced to sign with the Falcons on a one-year, $7 million deal.

Campbell was a former Pro Bowl and All-Pro player, but he could no longer earn a lengthy extension because of his age. The same should happen for Cameron Heyward, who will be entering his late 30s.

The Pittsburgh Steelers simply cannot afford the longevity Heyward is looking for on his next contract. If he's not willing to sign on a year-by-year basis, a deal isn't guaranteed to get done with his current team.