Cameron Heyward

Joe Haden Tests Positive For COVID-19

The Steelers look to be without another key defender to start the playoffs. Joe Haden tested positive for COVID-19, Dan Graziano of ESPN.com reports.

Already down Bud Dupree and Devin Bush for the season’s remainder, the Steelers now face the prospect of playing without their most proven cornerback to start the playoffs. Haden is out for Week 17 against the Browns and, due to the 10-day isolation period required after a positive coronavirus test, the 11th-year cornerback would not be able to return for the Steelers’ wild-card game.

Shortly after the Browns released Haden in 2017, the former first-round pick bounced back with the Steelers. He has signed two Pittsburgh contracts and returned to the Pro Bowl. Haden’s arrival helped key a Steelers late-2010s defensive resurgence, and the AFC North champions have relied on that unit this season. But the team will not be close to full strength defensively when it opens the playoffs as the AFC’s No. 3 or No. 2 seed next week.

Haden’s three-year Steelers extension runs through next season, though the 31-year-old defender’s cap number spikes from $9.6MM to $15.6MM in 2021. He has started 56 games since signing with the Steelers, including 14 this season. On 79 targets this season, Haden has allowed a 50.6 completion percentage; Pro Football Focus grades him 45th overall among corners.

In addition to Haden being out for a game the Steelers are not exactly going all-out to win, the team will sit T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward and Maurkice Pouncey. The Steelers declared Ben Roethlisberger out earlier this week.

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Contract Details: Watson, Hopkins, Heyward

Here is the latest from some of the high-profile contracts signed around the league, beginning with the Texans’ former Pro Bowl connection:

  • Deshaun Watson, Texans: Four years, $177.4MM. Watson will receive $73.7MM in full guarantees, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports tweets. The deal includes fully guaranteed salaries of $1.177MM (2020), $10.54MM (2021) and $35MM (2022). This places the Pro Bowl passer third among QBs. Watson’s 2023 salary ($20MM) is guaranteed for injury at signing and becomes fully guaranteed on Day 4 of the 2022 league year, Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle reports. Watson’s $32MM salaries in 2024 and ’25 are non-guaranteed. Watson’s contract also contains a no-trade clause, per Wilson.
  • DeAndre Hopkins, Cardinals: Two years, $54.5MM. Hopkins received $42.75MM guaranteed at signing, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. A $27.5MM signing bonus represents part of that guarantee, Rapoport adds (on Twitter). Hopkins received a no trade clause and a no-franchise tag clause, Rapoport tweets.
  • Cameron Heyward, Steelers: Four years, $71.4MM. Heyward’s second Steelers re-up includes a $17.5MM signing bonus, Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tweets. The Steelers will pay Heyward a $2.5MM roster bonus Friday.
  • Stephen Gostkowski, Titans. Gostkowski’s one-year Tennessee pact is worth $2.75MM, Rapoport tweets. The 15th-year veteran can make up to $3.25MM based on his 2020 field goal make rate.

Steelers, Cam Heyward Agree To $71MM+ Extension

The Steelers and defensive lineman Cameron Heyward have struck agreement on a four-year extension that will pay $71.4MM in total, sources tell ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler (on Twitter). Heyward had one year to go on his previous deal, so the new add-on will take him through the 2024 campaign.

[RELATED: Steelers Open To Ben Roethlisberger Extension Beyond 2021]

Between the expected 2021 cap decrease and rising salary expectations for Heyward, there was doubt as to whether the Steelers would be able to retain their defensive captain. Ultimately, the whispers of “Aaron Donald-money” were far-fetched, but Heyward still managed to score nearly $18MM per year on average, giving him the most lucrative contract of any defensive player over the age of 30 in NFL history.

Heyward, who turned 31 in May, didn’t exactly play hard-to-get. All along, he’s made it clear that he wants to continue to star on the Steelers D-Line for years to come. He’s now set to enter his tenth season with Pittsburgh, fresh off of his third consecutive Pro Bowl and second career First-Team All-Pro nod. In 2019, Heyward notched nine sacks, bringing his career tally to 54. The advanced metrics were predictably fond of his work — Pro Football Focus ranked him as the NFL’s second-best interior defender, behind only Rams superstar Aaron Donald.

The deal marks a well-deserved step up in salary for Heyward. His previous six-year deal paid him just over $59MM in total, averaging out to less than $10MM per season.

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This Date In Transactions History: Steelers Extend Cameron Heyward

As Cameron Heyward continues to hunt for his next contract, we’ll go back to a transaction from five years ago. On July 16, 2015, the defensive lineman signed a six-year, $59.25MM extension with the Steelers.

Pittsburgh selected the Ohio State product with the 31st pick of the 2011 draft. It took a while for Heyward to settle into a starting role, but he never looked back after starting 13 games during the 2013 campaign. After combining for 12.5 sacks between the 2013 and 2014 seasons, the Steelers decided to make a lengthy commitment to the lineman. However, the deal did provide the organization with some flexibility at only $15MM in guaranteed money.

Heyward has more than lived up to that deal. He’s earned Pro Bowl appearances in each of the past three seasons, and he received first-team All-Pro honors in 2017 and 2019. The veteran has only missed a single regular season game over the past three years, averaging just under 10 sacks per season.

Following a 2016 campaign where he was limited to only seven games, Heyward agreed to restructure his contract (he also restructured prior to the 2018 season). Now, the 31-year-old is looking to get paid.

With Heyward set to hit free agency following the 2020 season, some sources believe he could get a contract that’s pushing Aaron Donald‘s six-year, $135MM deal ($50MM guaranteed). Sure, Heyward is on the wrong side of 30, but his versatility and continued production means he’ll surely find a lucrative deal. Considering the uncertainty of the 2021 cap, it’s uncertain if the Steelers will even be able to retain their defensive captain.

While Heyward’s future in Pittsburgh may be a bit uncertain, the team can at least rest easy knowing they inked the lineman to an excellent deal five years ago today.

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Cam Heyward To Earn Aaron Donald Money?

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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No Recent Contract Talks Between Steelers, Cam Heyward

In March, we heard that the Steelers and star defensive lineman Cameron Heyward were expected to agree to a contract extension “soon.” Over two months later, there has been no movement on that front, as Mark Kaboly of The Athletic writes.

While that may not be too surprising given the uncertainty created by COVID-19, Heyward’s tenor suggests that he may be coming to grips with leaving the only team he has ever known. “Man, I hate talking about it in the past tense like I am already gone, but I have to be ready for the reality if that comes about,” Heyward said. “I love being a Pittsburgh Steeler, but if my time is up, my time is up.”

The 31-year-old, who is set to play out the last year of the six-year, $59.2MM pact he signed in 2015, told Kaboly that while there were some early indications that the team would consider a new contract, there has been radio silence ever since. The Steelers could have reached out to him to tell him that the delay was pandemic-related and that they were still going to pursue a re-up once things settled down, but according to Heyward, the team has not communicated with his camp at all.

And as Kaboly observes, Pittsburgh’s policy has been to table contract negotiations once the season gets underway. So if there is no new deal in place by September 14, then Heyward will be eligible for free agency in 2021. If that happens, Kaboly expects the 2011 first-rounder to be playing elsewhere next year.

“We haven’t had any talks as of late, and it may be due to the virus, I don’t know,” Heyward said. “I don’t know if their minds have changed. I understand their policy and respect their policy. If I have to play this year and go into next year as a free agent, then so be it. That’s not going to deter me from being the best teammate, the best person, the best player I can be.” 

Heyward has established himself as the team’s leader in the locker room, and he is easily one of the best D-linemen in the game. Able to line up both inside and outside, he has earned three consecutive Pro Bowl nods (including two First Team All-Pro selections) and has averaged nearly 10 sacks per year over the past three seasons. In 2019, he tallied a career-high 83 tackles and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ second-best interior defender (behind only Rams’ superstar Aaron Donald).

He is a critical component of Pittsburgh’s stout defense, so it will be interesting to see if the team does resume extension talks or if the threat of a decreased salary cap in 2021 will compel the Steelers to explore younger, cheaper options.

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AFC North Notes: Browns, Ravens, Steelers

The Browns have long been mentioned as the primary suitor for Redskins left tackle Trent Williams, and while no trade is on the immediate horizon, Williams does remain an option for Cleveland, as Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. At the moment, Washington is asking for too much in trade compensation, while Williams is demanding too expensive an extension. If either of those prices drops, the Browns could make a move for a (much-needed) new blindside protector.

Here’s more from the AFC North:

  • While the Browns are still considering Williams, Vikings safety Anthony Harris –= whom Cleveland has reportedly considered in trade — is no longer an option for the Browns, per Cabot. Minnesota apparently wants at least a third-round pick in order to part with Harris, while the 28-year-old defensive back would want a new deal to supersede his franchise tag. Instead of pursuing Harris, the Browns signed free agent safeties Karl Joseph and Andrew Sendejo.
  • Franchise-tagged edge rusher Matthew Judon is not close to reaching a new deal with the Ravens, per Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic. Judon will earn $15.828MM in 2020 if he sticks on the franchise tender, but he was reportedly asking for $20MM annually earlier this year, per Zrebiec, who adds that asking price may have since come down. The 28-year-old Judon played 80.8% of Baltimore’s snaps last season and posted a career-high 8.5 sacks.
  • Steelers defensive lineman Cameron Heyward has been eyeing an extension since at least January, and according to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the 30-year-old should receive a new deal “soon.” Heyward, is set to earn $9.5MM and count for ~13.25MM on the Steelers’ salary cap in 2020. An extension would give Heyward more immediate cash but likely lower his cap charge for next season.

Steelers’ Cameron Heyward Eyeing Extension

With one year to go on his deal, Cameron Heyward is ready to talk turkey. The Steelers defensive end says he’d be “more than happy to facilitate” contract extensions with the club, as Mark Kaboly of TheAthletic.com writes. 

I would love to be a Pittsburgh Steeler the rest of my life,” Heyward said as he motioned toward his wife and three young children standing by his side. “It is what I call home and my family loves it. We are very thankful to be here. We will see what happens. I have no control over it. If they reach out, I will be more than happy to facilitate.”

The Steelers would like to keep Heyward for the long run, especially since he has emerged as a leader in the locker room. A new deal could also help their tight cap situation – Heyward is currently slated to count for $13.2MM against the 2020 payroll.

Heyward expects to meet with the Steelers in “June or July” but would also be open to getting “something done earlier.” If his desire to stay in Pittsburgh means a willingness to take a hometown discount, that should help to move things along.

They’ve done right by me so far, and I want to continue to do them right,” Heyward said.
That’s what I love about Pittsburgh — you have to earn your way. If I play well and they show me love, I want to show love back. I want to make sure as them being my employer and them being my family, you always want to make sure that you represent your family well.”

In 2019, Heyward earned a First-Team All-Pro nod, despite playing most of the year without Stephon Tuitt on the opposite side. He finished out with nine sacks and set a new career high with 83 tackles.

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Latest On Antonio Brown, Steelers

Not only did the Steelers produce a six-Pro Bowler team that just missed the playoffs, they are dealing with another soap opera-esque plot development involving a superstar player. Antonio Brown has been unhappy for a while, according to ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler, and a Steelers source informed him the situation has “gotten worse” in 2018.

Reports Brown went AWOL on the Steelers last week have now led to teammates doubting if he was legitimately injured. Some, per NFL.com’s Aditi Kinkabwala (on Twitter), are skeptical. Mike Tomlin said the Steelers ordered a Brown MRI because of knee pain but that the All-Pro wide receiver did not show up for the exam. This has ignited Brown trade rumors, and players from other teams are making pitches.

As for a trade scenario, the Steelers would eat a $21MM dead-money hit in 2019 by shipping Brown elsewhere. This cap hit could be spread over multiple years if a deal occurs after June 1. As Tom Pelissero of NFL.com points out (via Twitter), no cap ramifications exist after 2019 — barring a post-June 1 trade — but the issue of trading the best player on the team may pose a problem for Pittsburgh’s high-powered offense. The Steelers, who frequently put money on future caps via restructures, have $28MM-plus in projected 2019 cap space.

One Steelers source’s working theory about Brown’s Week 17 actions is forcing JuJu Smith-Schuster, who was voted team MVP, to act as Pittsburgh’s top receiver, per Fowler. Smith-Schuster took a major leap forward this season, his receiving average shooting up from 65.5 yards per game to 89.1 per contest. Smith Schuster’s 1,426 yards topped Brown’s total (1,297), making it the first time Brown has not led the Steelers in receiving since 2012.

Brown still made the Pro Bowl and remains an elite pass-catcher, commanding top attention from defenses and creating better matchups for his younger sidekick. Fowler adds Brown was not happy Ben Roethlisberger — the target of his latest outburst — criticized his route-running after a November loss to the Broncos.

This century, the Steelers have only made substantial long-term wide receiver commitments to Brown and Hines Ward, reaching trade agreements to unload other talented receivers and letting other capable starters walk in free agency. Brown, 31 in July, has not requested a trade. Three more seasons remaining on the four-year, $68MM extension Brown signed during the 2017 offseason. Smith-Schuster cannot be extended until after the 2019 season.

Tomlin said Drew Rosenhaus’ Sunday-morning update his client was ready to play against the Bengals — despite leaving practice and missing Saturday Steeler activities — did not go over well with him. The 12th-year Pittsburgh coach told the high-powered agent Brown playing Sunday was off the table. Tomlin did meet with Brown on Sunday morning, per Mark Kaboly of The Athletic (subscription required), but hasn’t met with him since.

Defensive end Cameron Heyward also criticized Brown’s actions, calling them “unacceptable,” while indicating the Steelers still want Brown on the team. Linemen’s responses to the Le’Veon Bell drama affected the Steelers earlier this year, and Bell is on his way to free agency.

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Steelers Restructure Cameron Heyward’s Deal

The Steelers are creating some cap flexibility today, restructuring the contract of defensive end Cameron Heyward, according to Field Yates of ESPN (Twitter link).

According to Yates the Steelers are converting $8.o5MM of Heywards $9MM base salary for this season into a signing bonus, freeing up $5.39MM in 2018 cap space. When converting salary into a signing bonus, it spreads the cap hit out over multiple seasons.

This strategy of kicking the can down the road can backfire and lead to even worse cap problems down the line if not executed properly. The Steelers and GM Kevin Colbert do it all the time, and in fact restructured Heyward’s deal at this same time last season. According to Overthecap.com, the Steelers had just $12.19MM in cap space for 2019 before this move, fourth least in the league, a number that will decrease when the restructure is factored in.

It’s unclear what the Steelers are planning to do with the extra space, but it wouldn’t make much sense to worsen their future cap situation and then not do anything with the freed up money. Perhaps there’s a big name veteran that the Steelers are looking to sign. Although Overthecap did project the Steelers to be very slightly over the salary cap before this move, so maybe they made it just to get comfortably under the cap and nothing else.

Heyward is signed through the 2020 season on a $52.81MM deal. He had 12 sacks in 2017, by far a career best.

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