When the new Collective Bargaining Agreement was finalized in 2011 one of the many new clauses in it related to the contracts given out to rookies. As well as a new wage scale it also put a limit on the length of the contract all players could sign at four years with a team option on first round selections for a fifth year.
Teams could not negotiate extensions with rookies until after their third year had completed and a decision of whether to exercise the option or not had to be made after the end of the players third year and before May 3, 2014.
If the team choose to exercise the option the player would be paid the same amount as a transition player would have been paid had he been tendered at his position, provided he was a top 10 pick. If the player was picked between selections 11-32 he would be paid the average salary of the top 25 players at his position, with the top three player salaries excluded for the calculation - numbers 4-25 essentially.
The Steelers like all other NFL teams have not been in a hurry to exercise their options given that once the option is used the players fifth year salary becomes guaranteed for injury.
It is to be expected that some teams around the NFL will be working on long term deals with their first round picks from 2011 if they have the inclination and the cap space but for teams like the Steelers who are short on cap space or others perhaps unsure about their player there should be a number of names that have their options taken for a fifth year and a few that will be allowed to hit the open market after the 2014 season.
Cam Heyward began to shine last year and is clearly a player that has a lot of improvement to come in his game over the coming seasons. There can be little question he is someone the Steelers will want to build around as they get younger on defense and after the disappointment of Ziggy Hood, Heyward has been a veritable stud in comparison on the other end of the line.
The Steelers do not have the cap space to sign him to an extension before May 3 and with other notable free agents currently in 2015 like Maurkice Pouncey, Jason Worilds and Cortez Allen it seems like a forgone conclusion that they will exercise their fifth year option to keep him off the open market next year.
As it stands right now the cost of that fifth year option will be a little under
$8.5* million for Heyward in 2015 based on the current top 25 list of salaries for defensive ends using the numbers from OverTheCap. That is certainly cheaper than any franchise tag or transition tag the Steelers could otherwise use on him next year and there is a chance they might need one or both of those tags for one or more of the aforementioned other free agents instead.
While the salary might be a little higher than some might like for Heyward in 2015 with the option in place the Steelers have time to try and get an extension on a long term deal, assured they have him for at least two more years.
*Edit: Reports are begin to surface that the cost of the option would be closer to $7 million