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Sticking Point Emerges in Steelers Negotiations with Cam Heyward

A sticking point has emerged in the negotiations between the Pittsburgh Steelers and defensive captain Cam Heyward.

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Pittsburgh Steelers DT Cam Hayward
Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Cam Heyward runs out of the tunnel at Acrisure Stadium for a game against the New England Patriots on Dec. 8, 2023. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

A sticking point has emerged in the contract discussions between Pittsburgh Steelers defensive captain Cam Heyward, a team source told Steelers Now.

Heyward’s contract with the Steelers is set to expire after the 2024 season and the 35-year-old told SN earlier this offseason that he wants to play for two or three more seasons. The difference between two and three could be the reason that there hasn’t been much progress in those contract negotiations. 

Heyward initially said that he wasn’t going to report to Steelers OTAs this spring while he was working on a new deal, but as things dragged through May, he eventually did report for the end of OTAs and was in attendance for all three days of the team’s mandatory minicamp.

When he got to OTAs, Heyward said then that he didn’t think the sides were close to agreement, and he reiterated that lack of confidence in a deal getting done during an appearance on The Jim Rome Show on Wednesday.

“I don’t want to say how likely something is, because you just never know,” Heyward said. “Obviously, I would love to be a Pittsburgh Steeler for the rest of my career. Getting a contract would lay claim to that. My goal is to be a Pittsburgh Steeler this year and have a good year to hopefully come back and play more games with them.”

Heyward would be 37 years old in his final season if he played three more years, and while that is not an unprecedented age for a defensive tackle, it is certainly near the outer limits. Calais Campbell of the Atlanta Falcons played as the oldest interior defensive lineman in the NFL in 2023 and has signed up to play again at age 38 in 2024. 

But the fact that relatively few players make it that far in their careers, and Heyward is coming off a season wrecked by multiple groin injuries has led to the team to give pause in handing out big money over a length of time to Heyward right now.

Pittsburgh Steelers DT Cam Heyward

Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Cam Heyward during minicamp on June 11, 2024. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

The Steelers also have other reasons to wait. Heyward is due $16 million in salary in 2024. That’s money that could be spread out over the length of a new contract by turning it into a signing bonus, which would clear salary cap space for the Steelers in 2024, if they want to do something like trade for a wide receiver already under contract.

On the other hand, if they can’t make a receiver trade work, it might benefit the Steelers to keep that big cap hit of Hayward’s in 2024, which would make it easier to cut him later on if they sign him to an extension. The third year, or guaranteed money stretching into a third year, could be something that makes or breaks whether a deal is able to get done this offseason.

Heyward reiterated that whether or not he signs with the Steelers, he’ll be playing beyond 2024.

“This is not a one and done thing,” he said. “Obviously, I’d like to be in Pittsburgh, but if it comes to it, I will play in another city.”

The one thing you can definitely rule out is him playing for the Cleveland Browns. Heyward joked that he has family in Cleveland — his wife is from the area — earlier this offseason when discussing potential places he’d play if not Pittsburgh. That set off a firestorm from the fanbase, and even from his wife, who protested the idea of Heyward playing for his longtime team’s arch rival.

“I would never want to play for, not only a rival, but a team that’s so close that there’s such bad blood there,” he said. “I don’t think I could do that. My wife, being from Cleveland, was just not for that, at all. … I was like, babe, I’m not going to Cleveland.”

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