ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — As Pittsburgh Steelers defensive captain Cam Heyward walked off the field ay Highmark Stadium after his team’s 31-17 loss to Buffalo Bills on Monday night, he hoped it was not the final time he did so as an NFL player.
But he’s not sure yet, either.
The 34-year-old had one of the most injury-plagued seasons of his career in 2023, missing six games after tearing his groin and also having core muscle surgery. Heyward also revealed two other maladies on Monday.
He has a strong desire to return to the field, but as he stood at the podium in the Steelers locker room after the loss to the Bills, he was not yet certain that he will be able to physically.
“In my heart, I want to play,” Heyward said. “But it’s been rough. I need to take the offseason to get healthy again. Battling back through a groin, it’s one thing to just walk off a groin, it’s another to play football. It’s definitely been a season. I just wanted to put my hand in the pile.”
Heyward said that in addition to the groin and core muscle surgeries, he also suffered another groin injury and had a knee issue that kept him from practicing fully throughout almost the entire season after his return.
“I had my groin, then overcompensating with my other groin,” he said. “There was stuff on top of that my knee. It was a grind just to get ready for each game. It wasn’t by choice that I didn’t want to practice. It was ‘get me to the game.’ I don’t like that doing that. I don’t like playing football that way. I don’t ever want to cheat the game. I don’t ever want to think I’m not going to be 100%. But that was the cards I was dealt this year. It was a lot.”
Heyward said multiple times that he believes this group of players is close to being able to content for a Super Bowl. After coming into his career in a locker room full of players with Super Bowl rings, the inability to play for one late in his career is one of the things that’s driving Heyward to returning.
“That’s the thing that bugs me the most at night,” he said. “Not having the opportunity to win a Super Bowl. Seeing all my teammates before that won it. Seeing the culture and the tradition here. Every man should feel that way. It stings. To be out of the playoffs, not having a chance to continue to move on. I’m not ready to give that up.”
One thing that Heyward does not believe will be a factor is the status of head coach Mike Tomlin. Tomlin, like Heyward, is entering the final season of his contract, and there has been speculation in the media about him wanting to possibly step away from the team. Heyward said he does not believe that Tomlin will leave.
“I don’t really pay attention to what the coaching thing is because I feel like Mike T is gonna be back,” Heyward said. “That’s not my decision and I’m not gonna speak for him. I think the group here collectively is a strong group. We can win a Super Bowl. …
“It’s not like we’re happy to just get to this point. We put so much into it. He put so much into it. Every player in there wouldn’t be in there without Mike T. This group would not function to even get to a playoff berth without Mike T. He keeps us accountable from top to bottom and I don’t want to play for any other coach.”