Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward wants to remain with the Steelers for the rest of his playing career. The team wants Heyward to retire as a Steeler. In a normal year, the two parties would likely be making significant progress on a long-term contract extension, as the Steelers prefer to extend their cornerstone players a year before their contracts expire.
Alas, thanks to the pandemic, this is not an ordinary year, and according to ESPN staff writer Jeremy Fowler, “there have been no substantive contract discussions between the Steelers’ front office and Heyward’s agent, Michael Perrett of Element Sports Group.
“I thought we’d be further along in the process. In a normal year, we might be,” Perrett told Fowler. “The current situation has led to a lot of uncertainty, but NFL business is still moving forward. Cam would love to retire a Steeler, but at this point, he just doesn’t know how all of this is going to play out.”
Heyward is entering the last year of the contract he signed in 2015, which will pay him $9.5 million salary in 2020 and count $13,251,250 against this year’s salary cap (according to overthecap.com). He is widely perceived to be one of the team’s top 5 pending unrestricted free agents entering 2021.
Should Steelers Fans Be Concerned?
Yes and no. The Steelers have a long-standing policy of not engaging in contract discussions during the regular season. And the team typically prefers to ramp up negotiations during training camp—then finalize extensions shortly before the regular season opener. There is still plenty of time for that.
Also, circumstances are so unsettled this year that it’s conceivable the organization could make a temporary exception to its hard-and-fast rule and negotiate in-season.
No doubt it could make a difference whether NFL games are played this year—and whether there are any fans in the stands. It’s not just whether there are fans at Heinz Field; we already know that a governor’s order makes it a certainty that Pittsburgh’s regular season opener vs. the New York Giants will be played in an empty MetLife Stadium, if it is played at all.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Cap Hell in 2021?
But the big worry from a Steelers perspective is the salary cap, as the team was planning for a 2021 cap number in excess of $200 million, up from $198 million this year. Now the team faces the prospect of a 2021 salary cap as low as $175 million, which would make cap hell almost inevitable for the Steelers and prohibit them from re-signing many of their own players, never mind adding outside free agents.
It doesn’t help that the cost of signing top defenders has increased recently, with Myles Garrett of the Cleveland Browns getting a five-year $125 million contract and Joey Bosa of the Los Angeles Chargers inking a $135 million extension.
Pittsburgh could resort to placing the franchise tag on Heyward in 2021, much like it did with outside linebacker Bud Dupree this year. Yet the organization might prefer to use the tag on a player it wants for just one more season, as opposed to a potential lifer like Heyward.
Regardless, it seems Heyward is highly motivated to have a big year in 2020. Already considered one of the Top 50 Players in the NFL, he recently took offense at being ranked way down on NFL Network’s list of the Top 100 players entering 2020.
But if he and his teammates have as strong a year as many observers expect, the Steelers could set a new franchise sack record in 2020, accomplishing something that hasn’t been seen in the NFL since the 1980s.
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