Cameron Heyward

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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Steelers Restructure Cameron Heyward’s Deal

The Steelers will have some extra cap space on hand as the season approaches. They agreed to a restructure with Cameron Heyward, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets.

Previously set to count $10.4MM against Pittsburgh’s 2017 cap, Heyward agreeing to rearrange his contract will create more than $3MM in cap space, Rapoport reports. While this will put more money on future Steelers payrolls, it frees up short-term funds. And the team wants to extend Heyward’s defensive line mate Stephon Tuitt.

The team’s targeted a Tuitt extension before the season, and the window to meet that goal is obviously closing. But after Heyward’s agreement and other moves, the Steelers firmly possess eight figures of cap space, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com notes.

The Steelers have authorized multiple key extensions this year — for Antonio Brown and Alejandro Villanueva — and despite not being able to reach a deal with Le’Veon Bell, a Tuitt re-up would continue a notable talent-retention offseason.

Heyward is signed through the 2020 season on a $52.81MM deal.

Steelers Place Wheaton On IR, Activate Dupree

The Steelers exchanged would-be key members of their 2016 team from IR in advance of their Week 11 game against the Browns, and the moves could bring to an end Markus Wheaton‘s time with the team.

Pittsburgh placed the fourth-year wide receiver on IR, Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports (on Twitter). This will end Wheaton’s season because the team is bringing Bud Dupree off its IR list, making the second-year linebacker the franchise’s IR-boomerang player and rendering all other performers on IR finished for the year.

Wheaton hopes to avoid surgery, but ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler tweets that’s a possibility for the 25-year-old pass-catcher.

The Steelers also moved Cameron Heyward to IR as expected after the stalwart defensive end tore a pectoral muscle.

For Wheaton, this brings about an unfortunate end to his contract year, with the wideout who appeared set to be Ben Roethlisberger‘s No. 2 target in a high-octane offense catching just four passes and playing in only three games this season. A shoulder injury ended up shelving the longtime contributor, who missed six games as a result of the malady. Wheaton averaged 17.0 yards per catch last season in an improved campaign that saw him carve out a key role for the Steelers, scoring a career-best five touchdowns and recording 749 air yards.

A former third-round pick, Wheaton will be a free agent, and the Steelers already house Antonio Brown, Sammie Coates, Eli Rogers and have Martavis Bryant under contract, although his status is murky at best due to the season-long suspension he’s serving.

Dupree has missed the season to this point with a groin injury. He played in all 16 regular-season games for the team last season and started five. Although the 2015 first-round pick was inconsistent as a rookie, the Kentucky product not having an entire season wiped away will help his development for a struggling Steelers defense.

The 23-year-old outside linebacker made 26 tackles and four sacks last season. He’ll return to a Steelers defense still flush with first-round linebackers, with the others — Lawrence Timmons, Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier — all starting for the 4-5 team, one that ranks 25th in total defense through 10 weeks.

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Steelers’ Cam Heyward Done For Season

Defensive end Cameron Heyward announced that he is done for the season. The Steelers star has been dealing with a pectoral injury that will apparently require surgery. Cameron Heyward (vertical)

I would like to thank everyone who has been in my corner this season,” Heyward posted on Instagram. “It pains me to say that I will not get to continue playing this season. My role will change as I can not play, but it will not change the goals the team has set out. My support for this team will only grow and I look forward in watching this team grow and fight on. Hate being on the sideline, but there is a greater plan taking place. My patience will be tested but I look forward to 2017. My hand will remain in the pile no matter what!

Heyward was already playing through a nagging hamstring injury but playing the hero through this chest injury was not an option for the 27-year-old. For the last six years, Heyward has been an absolute rock for the Steelers and he never missed a regular season game until this year. As a starter over the last three-and-a-half years, Heyward has tallied 22.5 sacks and been a constant nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. This year, his 3 sacks stand as a team high although he only played in seven of nine possible games.

With Heyward out, the Steelers will likely use Ricardo Mathews in his spot and they may also move tackle Javon Hargrave around on the line. It’s unlikely that either player can match Heyward’s production, however.

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Steelers’ Heyward, Shazier Nursing Injuries

Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward is expected to miss two-to-three weeks as he recovers from a hamstring issue that forced him from yesterday’s game against the Jets, reports Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL.com (Twitter link). However, Heyward is aiming to return ahead of that timeline, and would like to play before Pittsburgh’s Week 8 bye, according to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Meanwhile, linebacker Ryan Shazier is dealing with a sprained MCL and is also hoping to return to the field before Week 8, tweets Fowler.Ryan Shazier/Cameron Heyward (Vertical)

[RELATED: Steelers Place Senquez Golson On IR]

Heyward, 27, had already incurred injuries earlier this year, as an ankle ailment limited him in early September. Still, through five games, Heyward had been one of the Steelers’ best defenders, posting three sacks and four passes defensed while grading as the league’s No. 19 interior defensive lineman, per Pro Football Focus. Heyward is signed through 2020 thanks to a 2015 extension that will pay him roughly $10.5MM annually.

Shazier, meanwhile, hasn’t ranked well according to PFF’s grades, but it’s fair to assume that his lingering knee issues have affected him. Through three games, the 24-year-old Shazier posted 12 tackles, a forced fumble, a fumble recover, and an interception. He’s signed through next season, but the Steelers will have the option of exercising a fifth-year option to lock up Shazier through 2018.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images. 

Watt, Bryant, Others Get Salary Guarantees

Several NFL players have contracts containing language which states that they’ll get a full or partial salary guarantees for 2016 and/or 2017 if they remained on their respective teams on Sunday, the fifth day of the league year. Let’s check in on those players (link courtesy of CBS Sports’ Joel Corry):

  • Ryan Tannehill, quarterback (Dolphins): $3.5MM of $17.975MM base salary for 2017 is guaranteed.
  • Dez Bryant, wide receiver (Cowboys): $13MM base salary for 2017 is guaranteed.
  • T.Y. Hilton, wide receiver (Colts): $3MM base salary for 2016 is guaranteed. $6MM roster bonus now "<strongpayable.
  • Anthony Castonzo, offensive tackle (Colts): $2.5MM base salary for 2016 is guaranteed. $4.5MM roster bonus now payable.
  • Tyron Smith, offensive tackle (Cowboys): $10MM base salary for 2016 is guaranteed.
  • Branden Albert, offensive tackle (Dolphins): $6MM of $8.245MM base salary for 2017 is guaranteed.
  • Mike Pouncey, center (Dolphins): $9MM base salary for 2016 is guaranteed, as is $2MM of Pouncey’s $7.95MM base salary in 2017.
  • Maurkice Pouncey, center (Steelers): $3.5MM roster bonus now payable.
  • Cameron Heyward, defensive end (Steelers): $5MM roster bonus now payable.
  • J.J. Watt, defensive end (Texans): $10.5MM base salaries for 2016 and 2017 are guaranteed.
  • Robert Quinn, defensive end (Rams): $7,777,777MM base salary for 2016 is guaranteed.
  • Lavonte David, linebacker (Buccaneers): $5MM base salary for 2016 is guaranteed.
  • Chris Harris Jr., cornerback (Broncos): $6.9MM base salary for 2016 is guaranteed.

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La Canfora On WR Extensions, Colts, JPP, Jets

After addressing a few burning questions on DeflateGate, the Marcus Mariota contract negotiations, and Junior Galette‘s release, Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com takes a look around the rest of the NFL, passing along several noteworthy tidbits from all over the league. Let’s dive right in and check out a few of the highlights from La Canfora’s newest piece…

  • La Canfora expects both Julio Jones and A.J. Green to sign new deals before the 2015 season begins, and estimates that both deals will fall in the range of $13MM per year. I’m guessing that figure takes into account their current $10.176MM salaries for 2015, so the annual average of the new money would be closer to the $14MM per year that Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas received.
  • Several executives around the league believe that Andrew Luck‘s price tag may end up being so high that it puts the Colts in a bind with T.Y. Hilton. La Canfora thinks Hilton’s extension could come in at close to $12MM per year, and some observers aren’t convinced Indianapolis would go that high.
  • Jason Pierre-Paul and the Giants will likely come to terms on a one-year contract agreement that features per-game roster bonuses, says La Canfora, adding that New York also hopes to get something out of Will Beatty in the season’s second half.
  • La Canfora suggests that Muhammad Wilkerson and the Jets should consider working out a short-term extension – perhaps for two or three years – that gives the standout defensive lineman a nice chunk of guaranteed money and buys the team some time to make long-term decisions on Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams. Wilkerson would be “very open” to the idea, per La Canfora.
  • Some team executives around the league raised an eyebrow at the Steelers‘ big-money extension for Cameron Heyward. However, Pittsburgh likes Heyward more than a lot of clubs do and was willing to take a “calculated gamble” on his upside, writes La Canfora.

AFC Notes: Hunter, Heyward, Texans, Raiders

Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk doesn’t understand why Titans wide receiver Justin Hunter hasn’t been put on paid leave after allegedly punching a man in the face and breaking his jaw. Hunter currently faces five to 20 years in prison and a $100K fine, but the Titans are reportedly expected to have him in camp.

Technically, the conduct policy only says that a player may be placed on paid leave if he is charged with a crime or if a league investigation “leads the commissioner to believe that [the player] may have violated this policy.” Still, Florio feels that the NFL should show some consistency and sideline Hunter.

Here’s more from around the AFC:

  • Aaron Wilson of the National Football Post has the complete breakdown of Cameron Heyward‘s extension. The Steelers defensive end will earn a $12MM signing bonus and a $15MM guarantee on his deal. He carries respective cap hits of $6.4MM, $10.4MM, $10.4MM, $11.4MM, $11.15MM, and $9.5MM from 2015 to 2020.
  • The Texans are working out former Boston College offensive tackle Matt Patchan, a league source tells Wilson. After going undrafted in 2014, Patchan signed with the Bucs, and spent time on the club’s practice squad last year.
  • Former agent Joel Corry of CBSSports.com identifies one or two players for each AFC team who are at some sort of career crossroads, or are facing make-or-break type seasons in 2015.
  • The Raiders wanted to upgrade the safety spot, and believe they did so by signing Nate Allen from Philadelphia this offseason, Scott Bair of CSNBayArea.com writes. The Raiders hope that Allen can play center field and free up Charles Woodson to make big plays down field. Of course, Allen has given up some big plays in the past and a skeptic might wonder if he’s the man for the job.
  • Adam Caplan of ESPN.com joined Mighty 1090 in San Diego (audio link) to discuss Ladarius Green‘s opportunity in the wake of Antonio Gates‘ suspension. The young Chargers tight end was widely expected to break out in 2014, but Gates was as good as ever to start the year and didn’t cede his starting job. Now, Green has an opportunity to shine with Gates sidelined.

Luke Adams contributed to this post.

Steelers, Cam Heyward Agree To Extension

9:52pm: Heyward will earn $15MM up front in signing/roster bonuses, with $21MM paid over the first eight months, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets.

8:21pm: The Steelers announced that they have signed Cameron Heyward to a new six-year deal, according to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (on Twitter). Heyward, a 2011 first-round pick, was previously due to earn a $6.969MM base salary for the 2015 season. With his new deal, Heyward is now under contract through the 2020 campaign. The deal is worth $59.25MM, according to Bouchette (link).

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Last season, Heyward was the first defensive end to lead the Steelers in sacks in a decade as he and the now-retired Jason Worilds tied with 7.5 apiece. The 26-year-old has appeared in every regular season game for the Steelers since his debut in 2011. Over the last two seasons, he has started 29 games for Pittsburgh and racked up a combined 114 tackles and 12.5 sacks.

We’re still waiting for the full breakdown of the deal, but it sounds like the pact is effectively ~$52.28MM in new money for an additional five years. That puts Heyward in the neighborhood of fellow defensive end Cameron Jordan, who added $55MM and five years on to his deal with the Saints last month. While Jordan’s five-year, $55MM extension includes $33MM guaranteed for injury, just $23.96MM of that is fully guaranteed.

Heyward recently told Robert Klemko of The MMQB that he thinks he can play better than he did in 2014, when he ranked as Pro Football Focus’ sixth-best 3-4 defensive end.

“I hope last year wasn’t a breakout season because I think I can achieve way more,” Heyward said. “I still have a mentality where I think of myself as a bust. I’ve got to prove everybody wrong including myself. I want to get better, and I want to shut people up.”