Those legendary Pittsburgh Steelers defenses of the 2000s have come and gone. Gone are Brett Keisel, Troy Polamalu, James Farrior, Larry Foote, Ryan Clark, Ike Taylor...you get the picture. The Steelers are witnessing a defense which is working it's way through a rebuilding process, and the organization made a wise decision signing defensive lineman Cameron Heyward to a 6-year extension Thursday.
Heyward is the nucleus of this defense, and the rebuilding process. Keeping arguably the best defender on the team until 2020 is something the team will not regret. In other words, Heyward is the glue which keeps this defense together.
Coming off a stellar 2014 season which saw him tied for the team lead in sacks with 7.5, Heyward is looking to take last season's performance and propel him into 2015. As for the re-tooling process, if you look around Heyward, you will see why it was so important to keep him around for the long-term.
Heyward's contract one of the best at his position
The Steelers have locked down their star DE for the next six years, while their star has locked down one of the highest salaries at his position.
Other than Lawrence Timmons, James Harrison and William Gay, Heyward has become an elder on the team's defense, and the fact he was in the final year of his rookie contract shows you just how young this defense is. Sure, there are players like Steve McLendon who might have more years on their resume, but don't come close to Heyward in terms of the leadership and importance they have to the team's defensive unit.
Keeping Heyward in the fold for the long-term will pay dividends across the entire defense. Heyward has already taken DE Stephon Tuitt under his wing and looks to turn Tuitt into an equal on the other side of the defensive line. At the linebacker position, Heyward is paving the way for players like Harrison, Jarvis Jones and Timmons. He is applying pressure on the quarterback which will ultimately lead to better performances from the team's secondary.
As some experts say, "It all starts up front." and the same could be said about the job Heyward does on the field, as well to the team's philosophy when attempting to complete this re-tooling process.
When a team looks to rebuild any position or unit, the success of such a project will always revert back to the trenches. Think about the Steelers potent offense. Always good, but never great. It wasn't until the team invested high draft picks in their offensive line that they started to see the offense blossom into one of the league's best entering the 2015 season.
The same can be said about the defensive side of the ball. Heyward is just one of the high draft picks anchoring the front seven of the Steelers' defense, and it will be his work along the defensive line which will pay huge dividends for a defense looking to take the next step in their progression by becoming a group to be reckoned with this season and seasons to come.
The Cam Heyward signing was a great move financially, but in terms of importance to the team and the defense as a unit, it was a phenomenal move.