Cam Heyward has been an ageless wonder for the Pittsburgh Steelers, especially since he suffered a season-ending injury in 2016. From 2017 on, Heyward has earned three first-team All-Pro nominations and has racked up 53.5 sacks and 363 quarterback pressures.
Over the past few seasons, Heyward has been vocal on social media in regard to how he is viewed on a national level. Now entering his 13th season, Heyward is still trying to improve his game and had a message for the people that thinks he cares too much or is declining.
“Too many people ask why I take things so personal and I shouldn’t take everything to heart. Let me share my insight- I get to live out my dream out everyday,” Heyward said. “I get to work and think about how I can be better with every fiber in my body. When I win it’s how do I duplicate or improve in the next performance.”
“When I lose I feel like I let the place where I was born down, I let my teammates down because I can be better. I want to be known as the best at my position because I don’t think people play the game like me and I’ll work my tail off for it. I inherited this game from my pops and I owe it to him and the fam to carry on this legacy. Also, you inherit so much history and legacy when you put on the black and gold. I owe it to my teammates to take it personal and be accountable. I guess all I’m saying is more work to be done.”
No matter what the “experts” and critics say about Heyward’s game, he has proven to the people in Pittsburgh that he is one of the best defensive linemen in the league and that he has no plans on slowing down anytime soon. At the ripe age of 34 years old, Heyward will help lead the Steelers’ defense again in 2023.
The trio of him, T.J. Watt, and Minjah Fitzpatrick give the Steelers an elite option in each of the three levels of their defense.
While he is still playing at a very high level, Heyward’s football career is closer to the end than the beginning at this stage of his career. With only a Super Bowl title left to achieve in what is a Hall of Fame career, Heyward recently discussed a possible retirement but said he is excited to chase a ring this season.
“The reflection period of (last season) was long. Just understanding that I got more years in the tank,” Heyward told reporters. “Excited to keep on attacking it. Trying to figure out this puzzle and win a Super Bowl.”
He then cleared the air and said that he uses the idea of retirement as a reflection tool and that while each season is long and difficult, he just needs a step back sometimes in order to realize that he wants to stay in the game.
“I use (the idea of retirement) just to give myself some space to really look at the situation,” Heyward said. “It’s not retirement. It’s more of a reflection, really just focusing on the seasons. Every year I got to focus on that, because I put so much into it. You need that time away to really stand back and see what’s happening and what you want to do.”
Heyward will continue his march towards 100 career sacks this season as he currently ranks third in Steelers history with 78.5 career sacks. Even without a Super Bowl title, Heyward is likely to be elected into Canton someday but if he can rack up 21.5 sacks over the final two seasons that are on his contract, that will almost guarantee himself a spot in the Hall of Fame.
Regardless, the Steelers and Heyward both are expecting another great year from the timeless Ohio State product.
97 • Cam Heyward, Defensive Tackle, Ohio State
6-foot-5, 295 pounds, 34 years old, 13th Season
Acquired: The Steelers drafted Heyward out of the Ohio State University with the 31st overall pick in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft.
Last season: In 2022, Heyward maintained his elite level of play as he started all 17 games on the defensive line and recorded 74 total tackles, 10.5 sacks, 58 quarterback pressures, one forced fumble, and four passes defended.
Over the final four games of the 2022 season, Heyward recorded seven sacks with three of them coming in Week 18 against the Cleveland Browns.
Career: After being a first-round pick in 2011, Heyward went his first two seasons with 32 appearances and zero starts. Over his first two full seasons, Heyward racked up 31 combined tackles, 2.5 sacks, 19 quarterback pressures, one forced fumble, and one pass defended.
In 2013, Heyward started his first NFL game and finished with 13 starts in total as a third-year player. In 16 games, Heyward racked up 59 total tackles, five sacks, 47 quarterback pressures, and seven passes defended.
Heyward started all 16 games for the Steelers in 2014 and finished the season with 53 total tackles, 7.5 sacks, 54 pressures, and four passes defended. Following the season, the Steelers decided to exercise Heyward’s fifth-year option.
In 2016, Heyward only appeared in and started seven games for the Steelers due to two separate injuries. He first suffered a hamstring injury that sidelined him for a short stint and then suffered a torn pectoral muscle that kept him out the rest of the season.
The 2017 season is when Heyward really took his game to the next level. He started 15 games and tallied 45 combined tackles and three passes defended. He set career-highs with 12 sacks, 62 quarterback pressures, and two forced fumbles. After the season, Heyward was named to the first-team All-Pro team. Pro Football Focus gave Heyward a rating of 89.8 which at that point of his career, was the highest rating of his career.
Over the next two seasons, Heyward started all 32 games for the Steelers and totaled 134 total tackles, 17 sacks, 119 quarterback pressures, two forced fumbles, and nine passes defended. After the 2019 season, Heyward was named to the first-team All-Pro team for the second time in his career. In addition, after the 2019 season, PFF gave Heyward the highest grade of his career with a 91.5 defensive rating.
In 2021, Heyward was named to his third first-team All-Pro team after he racked up 89 tackles, 10 sacks, 61 quarterback pressures, one forced fumble, and nine passes defended.
Over the first 12 seasons as a member of the black-and-gold, Heyward has earned three first-team All-Pro nominations and five Pro Bowl selections. In his 166 career games, Heyward has started 131 games and tallied 540 tackles, 149 quarterback hits, 98 tackles for loss, 68 sacks, 42 passes defended, seven forced fumbles, and two interceptions.
College: Coming out of Peachtree Ridge High School in 2006, Heyward committed to the Ohio State University. As a true freshman in 2007, Heyward appeared in 13 games and tallied 33 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, one forced fumble, and three passes defended. The Ohio State Buckeyes went to the BCS National Championship with Heyward as a freshman but ultimately lost to LSU. Following the season, Heyward was named a freshman All-American.
In 2008, Heyward totaled 36 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, one forced fumble, and one pass defended. As a junior in 2009, Heyward helped guide the Buckeyes to a Rose Bowl victory against Oregon. He finished his junior season with 46 total tackles, 10 tackles for loss, and 6.5 sacks.
Prior to his senior season, Heyward decided to return to Ohio State for his senior season. In 13 games as a senior, Heyward finished with 48 combined tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, and one interception.
Heyward finished his Ohio State career with 163 combined tackles, 37.5 tackles for loss, 15.5 sacks, one interception, two forced fumbles, and four passes defended.
Salary cap and future: Heyward is entering his 13th season with the Steelers and will cost $22.25 million against the team’s cap space this season. Of that $22.25 million, $15.85 million is in base salary and the other $6.04 million is in bonus money.
Heyward is signed with the team through the end of the 2024 season when he will become an unrestricted free agent at the age of 35 years old.
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