On the heels of the NFL and NFLPA putting several outstanding issues to bed on Friday that will now allow for 2020 training camps and the regular season to get underway on time, the Pittsburgh Steelers should now be able to move forward with contract extension talks with defensive lineman Cameron Heyward.
While the Steelers seemingly had some degree of early offseason contract extension talks with Heyward and his representation, those discussions basically came to a complete halt once the coronavirus pandemic started. That’s certainly understandable as there was no point in the Steelers making any short or long-term financial decisions with all the uncertainly that the pandemic produced. However, now that Steelers know that the lowest the NFL salary cap in 2021 can be is $175 million, they should be able to formulate a contract extension offer for Heyward with that worst-case scenario in mind.
As things stand right now, Heyward, who is in the final year of his current contract, is set to earn a base salary in 2020 of $9.5 million and count $13,251,250 against the cap. His current market value is probably around $17.5 to $18.5 million in new money average. In short, Heyward’s probably looking at a four-year extension that totals out at $80 million, of which $9.5 million would be old money that’s included.
Usually the Steelers like to have all contract talks with players completed by the time the regular season starts. While they certainly could deviate from their normal protocols with Heyward due to the pandemic fallout, there’s really no good reason to do that. Waiting to sign Heyward until after the 2020 season is over would be quite risky as well. For starters, there’s no guarantee the Steelers will be able to afford a franchise tag for Heyward next February and especially if the 2021 salary cap number winds up being the worst-case scenario of $175 million.
Getting Heyward signed to an extension within the next 50 days can be done with not only this year’s cap charge in mind, but 2021’s as well. As is usually the case with lucrative long-term contracts written by the Steelers, a largish second-year roster bonus can be given so that it can easily be converted into a signing bonus along with a good chunk of said player’s second-year base salary. This way the Steelers can instantly lower whatever Heyward’s initial 2021 cap charge is set at come March via a restructure.
With the deadline to sign franchise tagged outside linebacker Bud Dupree to a contract extension now passed, that should leave Heyward as the lone candidate to receive one between now and the start of the regular season. At this point, there’s no reason for the Steelers not to be able to get an extension done with Heyward and especially if his asking price in new money average is $18.5 million or less.
While it’s been a crazy offseason to date and while the full financial impact of the pandemic on the NFL won’t be known for several more months, I’ll still be quite shocked if the Steelers 2020 regular season begins without Heyward having been signed to an extension. We’ll find out for sure in 50 more days and maybe even less than that.