Heyward tweeted a picture of himself signing the contract that will keep him with the team through 2020. With 7.5 sacks in 2014, Heyward tied Jason Worilds for the team lead. Over the last two years Heyward has recorded 12.5 sacks and 112 tackles.
The team accomplished that Thursday, signing the 26-year-old to a six-year deal that will pay him almost $60 million.
Heyward might be the best player you never heard of… While Heyward never let it be a distraction to him, his focus always exclusively on football, he was asked about entering the previous year of his rookie contract throughout the Steelers offseason. Heyward will make roughly $21 million over the first eight months of the deal. As a leader on a defense replacing several starters, Heyward has a chance to put up career numbers in 2015.
Heyward, who is now under contract for six years, will become the 11-highest-paid defensive end on average and the fourth-highest at 3-4 end, behind J.J. LeBeau preferred to have his ends essentially block for the outside linebackers. This deal has “Antonio Brown” written all over it. Heyward flashed elite play as a 2-gapping pass rusher last season but didn’t play at an All-Pro level the entire time.
But the infusion of youth, which coincides with the departures of Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor and Brett Keisel – important pieces in the defense’s long run of dominance – also comes with growing pains.
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Heyward expects the defense that has struggled the past two years to greatly improve this season.
Contract year or not, Heyward was eyeing a career-defining season. Heyward followed on Thursday, and the expectation is that left tackle Kelvin Beachum could be next. I grew up admiring the Steelers.