Cameron Heyward is a pillar of the Steelers defense, a stabilizing force who has earned his role as the team's defensive captain through the years for a reason. It's because he does things the right way, both on and off the field.
And he will continue to do those things in Pittsburgh through 2024 after signing a new five-year contract, something he announced via his Twitter account on Sunday night, saying 'Pittsburgh is where I belong,' and the team has made official.
Heyward was a first-team AP All-Pro selection in 2019, the second time he earned the honor after doing in 2017 as well. He and Joe Greene (four times) are the only interior defensive linemen in franchise history to be voted first-team AP All-Pro more than once. has been a rock for the defense throughout his career and dominated more than ever last season, finishing the year with nine sacks. Heyward was the Steelers first-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft and has made the Pro Bowl in each of the last three seasons.
"Cam is special," said Coach Mike Tomlin during the offseason. "It starts with his consistency. Not only consistency in presence, he is a guy who is ever-present, but consistency in work, consistency in urgency, there is great consistency in everything he does. I think it provides a good floor in everything he does. He doesn't ride an emotional roller coaster. You know what you are going to get from Cam. It starts first and foremost with his willingness to be present and engaged and be consistent in every aspect of his life."
It's more than being just a good leader. It's backing it up with on field play that earns the overall respect from teammates and coaches and Heyward does just that.
"I think first and foremost when you are a good leader you have to be a good player," said David DeCastro. "Cam has proven that over his career. He has only gotten better as he has gotten older. It's been cool to watch him evolve. He is only a year ahead of me. Watching him grow as a leader has been impressive. Everything had been earned in the right way the way he has done it."
While teammates are always quick to give love to Heyward, he is just as quick to credit his teammates for his own success.
"Having great teammates allows you to play freely," Heyward told me this offseason. "I just want to hold up my end of the deal, whether it's being a leader of the team, a teammate, being a part of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I want to make sure you never think I am shortcutting you or only giving you 25%. I am going to give you everything I have, and I have been blessed to play a pretty long career here."
In 2019 Heyward had nine sacks, 22 quarterback hits, 11 tackles for a loss and six passes defended while leading all NFL defensive linemen with 83 tackles. Heyward also ranked second in sacks and fourth in tackles for loss among defensive tackles in the NFL.
Heyward, the team's No 1 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, has 54 career sacks, ranking him eighth in team history.
"We had several good players on defense last year, but Cam is the one who has done it for a longer period," said General Manager Kevin Colbert during the offseason. "He has been able to sustain his level of play on the football field. There are points in a game where he is unstoppable. There are just times when he reaches a different level. I think back on the Indianapolis game last year, which to me was his best game. That is the one that stood out. He had a dominant type performance in that game."
Dominant is a word that is often used when talking about Heyward, something every athlete should strive for.
"He is such a physically imposing guy," said Tomlin. "The way he does his job is in a very physical fashion. It's something all of us have a lot of respect for and can appreciate. Always a very emotional player. Over the years it's been fun to watch him gain control and weaponize that emotion."