Steelers hold every ounce of leverage of Cameron Heyward in extension talks

Cameron Heyward wants a new contract, but the Pittsburgh Steelers hold all of the leverage in negotiations.
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Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman Cameron Heyward wants a new contract extension; he has made that very clear. The Walter Payton Man of the Year and former three-time First-Team All-Pro is entering the final season of the four-year, $65 million contract he signed during the 2020 offseason.

According to a report from ESPN, Heyward will not be attending OTAs as he seeks a rich new deal, and a 'hold-in' at Steelers training camp could be in his future (similar to what we saw with T.J. Watt ahead of the 2021 season).

There's no question that the Steelers want Heyward to finish his NFL career where it all started, but caving to his demands should not be in the cards, and Pittsburgh holds all the leverage in contract extension talks.

Steelers can't overpay Cameron Heyward for past production

The Pittsburgh Steelers are notorious for overpaying players past the prime of their NFL careers. This was the case with an aging Ben Roethlisberger. Sometimes, a team doesn't have a choice; not paying a quarterback isn't an option. But Cameron Heyward's situation is different.

According to, Heyward is expected to receive a new annual earnings of $19.6 million per season on his next contract. However, dishing out this sort of money to a player on his last legs isn't a wise decision. Heyward will be 36 years old well ahead of the 2025 season, and teams shouldn't overpay for past production.

In addition to his age and a projected decline, Heyward was not able to stay healthy during the 2023 season. This should work against him in contract negotiations. The veteran suited up for 11 games last season but managed just 2.0 sacks, 6 tackles for a loss, and 3 quarterback hits.

When looking beyond the box score, Heyward graded out worse than rookie Keeanu Benton and former Steelers defensive lineman, Armon Watts, per Pro Football Focus (though it's worth mentioning that he was fighting through a groin injury).

The biggest question becomes: what will the Steelers be getting from Heyward on his next contract?

Why Steelers hold the leverage in contract extension talks

At age 36 and beyond, it's unreasonable to expect Heyward to play like the All-Pro the Steelers signed back in 2020. While the salary cap keeps going up, Heyward's performance will gradually go down as he operates on borrowed time.

The good news is that the Pittsburgh Steelers hold all of the leverage in contract negotiations. If Heyward doesn't participate in training camp, so what? Mike Tomlin isn't going to want him doing much to risk injury anyway. If Heyward decides to let this linger into the 2024 season, he will lose sizeable game checks from his $16 million base salary.

If contract negotiations go south and an agreement can't be reached, Omar Khan could always slap the franchise tag on Heyward -- effectively keeping him around through the 2025 season. Knowing that he turns 37 years old during the 2026 offseason, this isn't the worst idea.

Sure, this isn't the best move from a PR perspective, but it's better than grossly overpaying a player based on past production. If and when Pittsburgh inks Heyward to a new deal, it needs to be on their terms with a contract that isn't going to kill them a few years down the line.

The Steelers hold all of the leverage in contract extension talks with Cameron Heyward, and they need to make a business decision that is best for their future.