It pains me to say this as a 36-year-old man, but Cameron Heyward doesn’t play football like a 33-year-old. That’s just the reality of athletics at the highest level, that the Pittsburgh Steelers’ star defensive lineman is an elder statesman.
12 years in, however, he knows the clock is ticking, and there’s so much that he still wants to accomplish. And he admitted yesterday that it gets to him just a bit more when he’s passed over at this stage because of that.
“I guess I’m a little bit grumpier”, he said on 93.7 The Fan. “When you start to know there’s light at the end of the tunnel (and there’s a couple more years where you can play this game) you start to think, ‘You know, I’ve got to make the most out of this’”.
Heyward was passed over for both the Pro Bowl and the All-Pro List in 2022 despite putting up some of his best numbers. He had gone to the Pro Bowl every season since 2017, and only missed the All-Pro list one other time since.
“You want to be recognized for the work that you put in”, he explained. “I don’t go into the offseason thinking, ‘I’ve got to be second best’, or second anything to anybody. I go in thinking I’ve got to be the best player on the planet for my team”.
“When you start to see guys going ahead of you, you’re like, ‘Eh, are we moving the goalposts at all for this?’”, he added. “Because before it was, ‘He’s not a big sack guy’. What happens now? I get the sacks for you. Why are you moving it this way?”.
All of his top five seasons for sacks have come since 2017 when he began to receive recognition. The recognition isn’t entirely coincidental, though. It also has to do with the Steelers formally classifying as a defensive tackle instead of end. That placed him in a different category for voting, beginning in 2018.
But the fact remains, he has 78.5 career sacks and 53.5 of them have come in the second half of his career. Granted, he didn’t start during his first two seasons, but he’s had at least eight sacks in five of the past six years. And he became the first Steelers lineman with three 10-plus-sack seasons after hitting 10.5 in 2022.
Heyward did make it to the ‘Pro Bowl’ this year, but only as an alternate. Chris Jones of the Kansas City Chiefs suddenly had other plans with his team making it to the Super Bowl, so he got to have a good time and to get that Pro Bowl on his resume.
The stark reality is that he will be 34 years old in May. That’s getting pretty old for an NFL defensive lineman. Can he continue to play at a high level longer than most? The signs are pointing to yes. But at this age, you start looking year to year. And those slights, which could be the last, apparently start to sting a little more as a result.