Steelers DL Cam Heyward Contemplating Retirement?

Steelers defensive lineman Cam Heyward, who has long been one of the best interior defenders in the game, is on the back nine of his illustrious career. Heyward himself has suggested that he may have already played his final NFL game.

When asked earlier this week what the future holds for him, Heyward said, “First and foremost, I have to see how my body feels. It’s been a rough season” (via Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette).

Indeed, Heyward played in only 11 games this season due to a groin injury he sustained in Week 1, making 2023 the first year in which he has missed any signficant action since a seven-game 2016 campaign. And his performance has taken a noticeable dip, with Pro Football Focus assigning him a 69.8 overall grade that, while strong, is nowhere near the elite levels he has attained in recent seasons. In fact, that is the lowest mark that Heyward has earned since his injury-shortened 2016 season, when he was given a 66.5 grade.

The surface-level stats are also lacking, as the two sacks, 33 tackles, and six tackles for loss he posted this year would still fall well short of his 2021-22 totals even if they were extrapolated over a full season. That diminished performance, combined with a season marred by a difficult injury, could certainly deter Heyward from returning for his age-35 campaign in 2024.

On the other hand, the 2011 first-rounder has earned Pro Bowl acclaim in each of the last six seasons, a stretch that also included three First Team All-Pro bids. So he may have another quality year or two left in the tank, especially if he can put this season’s health struggles behind him.

He is also under contract through 2024, though his $16MM base salary for next year is not guaranteed. He is due to carry a $22.41MM cap charge due to bonus prorations, which may be an untenable figure for the Steelers. If Heyward does choose to continue his playing career, the team could explore either a pay cut or a brief extension that lowers his cap hit.

Pittsburgh kept its playoff hopes alive with a victory against Baltimore in yesterday’s regular season finale. However, the club needs one of the Bills or Jaguars to drop their Week 18 contests today to qualify for the postseason.

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