Earlier this month, we learned that there have been no recent contract talks between the Steelers and star defensive lineman Cameron Heyward, who is entering the final season of his current deal. Mark Kaboly of The Athletic believes Pittsburgh should make Heyward its top priority, even ahead of some of its younger talent that will be due for extensions soon, but that could be a tall order.
For one, the Steelers always spend to the cap and often push money into future seasons in order to stay cap compliant. As Kaboly observes, the team pushed $21MM of salary into the 2021 season, with the expectation that the salary cap would increase by at least $15MM next year. But the 2021 cap may be reduced as a result of the pandemic, which could put Pittsburgh in a bind.
Secondly, even without the pandemic, the club may have found it tough to keep the 31-year-old Heyward in the fold. A source tells Kaboly that Heyward could fetch Aaron Donald money on the open market, due to his overall excellent play and his ability to line up both inside and outside (plus, in 2019, Heyward graded out as Pro Football Focus’ second-best interior defender, behind only Donald himself). Heyward’s age could limit his payday a bit, but he is only two years older than Donald, who is playing on a six-year, $135MM deal that included $50MM guaranteed at signing. Though it would be surprising to see Heyward cash in to that degree, his next contract will certainly be massive in its own right, so the Steelers may have no other choice but to look elsewhere.
Likewise, Kaboly suggests that the Steelers will not extend outside linebacker Bud Dupree prior to the July 15 deadline for franchised players, and the team will almost assuredly not tag him against next season. Indeed, we haven’t heard of any contract talks between the two sides, and it looks as if Dupree will play out the 2020 campaign on his $16MM+ tender, with an eye towards hitting the open market in 2021.
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