The NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement contains a provision that allows teams to exercise a fifth-year option on players picked in the first round starting with the 2011 draft. As part of the rookie wage scale that is a part of the current CBA, all draft picks are required to sign four-year contracts, and for No. 1 picks, a fifth-year option can be applied by the team.
The Steelers have decided to do that with defensive end Cameron Heyward. The Steelers had until May 3 to exercise this option with Heyward, but they decided to announce the move this week, which happens to be when the team’s offseason program begins. For players selected in the first 10 picks of the first round, their fifth-year salary is to equal the transition tender for the player’s position in the fourth year of his contract. As examples, the transition tender for a quarterback in 2014 was $14.666 million, $10.633 million for a defensive end, $9.754 million for a linebacker, and $10.081 million for a cornerback, etc.
Heyward was the 31st overall pick in 2011 for the Steelers out of Ohio State. For players selected from 11th to 32nd in the first round the salary for the option year is determined from the average of the top 25 highest-paid players at the same position, with the top three salaries excluded. Based on 2014 salaries, the average for defensive ends would be in the neighborhood of $7.5 million, but the numbers contributing to that average will obviously change for 2015 when salaries most likely would go up.DE Cameron Heyward had 63 tackles, 5 sacks, and 31 pressures for the Steelers defense in 2013.
During his first two seasons with the Steelers, the Ohio State product didn’t start a game while primarily serving as a backup to Brett Keisel at right defensive end. Heyward’s statistics in those two seasons combined included 31 tackles, 2.5 sacks, two passes defensed, and one forced fumble. But he broke through in 2013 with 13 starts, and his production increased significantly. Heyward led the team’s defensive linemen in virtually every significant statistical category, with 63 tackles, five sacks, five passes defensed, and 31 pressures.
This move guarantees he will be with the Steelers at least through 2015 and gives them the ability to focus on other players in the last year of their contract like Cortez Allen, Maurkice Pouncey and Jason Worilds. They will be the big names for the Steelers to contemplate and fans to worry about in the coming months, but at least Heyward is locked up right now and not an immediate concern for the Steelers. This gives them time to sign him to a long-term deal in the future. The cost of this option was confirmed a few days ago following the filing of papers on some of the other 2011 defensive end draft picks like JJ Watt. As mentioned the figure for his fifth year will be $6.969 million. His late father, Craig "Ironhead" Heyward, was a former NFL running back.