Previously having been slated to collect $6.969 million on a 1 year team contract option, Cam Heyward and the Pittsburgh Steelers have reached a deal on a new 6 year contract worth $59.25 million per Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.
The devil is always in the details in these deals, but at first blush that makes Heyward the 5th highest paid 3-4 DE (average per year) behind JJ Watt, Cam Jordan, Calais Campbell and Corey Liuget (see update below). The true value of contracts though, is typically measured in the guaranteed money, those guarantees being actual and practical.
For example, Ben Roethlisberger will make over $60 million the first 3 years of his deal, even though all of that money is not fully guaranteed, because cutting him before that money is paid out would be prohibitive from a cap standpoint. Thus that $60M is “practically” guaranteed. Not paying it out is too punitive for the team to easily accept.
True guarantees must be fully funded the day the contract is executed, putting small market teams like Pittsburgh at a disadvantage from a “cash up front” standpoint.
The 26 year old Heyward is entering his 5th year in the NFL and has been a starter for the Steelers for the last 30 games. The son of former NFL running back Craig “Iron Head” Heyward, Cam notched 55 tackles, 4 passes defensed and 7.5 sacks, becoming the team co-leader for sacks collected in 2014.
Heyward is seen as the heir apparent by many for a leadership role on the Steelers defensive unit now that Brett Keisel and Troy Polamalu have moved on and with James Harrison presumably entering his last season in Pittsburgh.
UPDATE: According to Curtis Crabtree at Pro Football Talk, the deal is actually a 5 year extension with $52.281 million in “new money”. The annual average is $10.456 million, making Heyward the 4th highest paid 3-4 DE in the league ahead of Corey Liuget. According to the same report, Heyward will also earn $21 million in the first 8 months of the contract. This implies a signing bonus now followed by a large roster bonus due next March. This is similar to the structure of Liuget’s contract with Liuget earning $19.48 million over the same period. It’s clear that Liuget’s contract was the basis for this agreement as my friend Malsor in Vegas predicted it would be when Liuget signed.