The team announced a six-year deal for Heyward on Thursday night. NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reports that the total deal is for $59.25 million, according to a source informed of the contract.
The No. 31 overall pick in the 2011 draft, Heyward did not make a huge impact as a reserve in his first two seasons as a pro. He's developed into a quality starter that played the best football of his career down the stretch last season.
Heyward is a solid run defender, but he's getting this contract because of his ability to pressure the quarterback. He recorded 7.5 sacks last season and racked up 12 QB hits with 38 hurries, according to ProFootballFocus. That's huge production for a 288-pound end in a 3-4 defense.
This is a Steelers defense in transition, with defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau gone. Lawrence Timmons is suddenly the veteran leader of the group (James Harrison is in a class of his own). Heyward, who can stay on the field every down, helps bridge the gap to young players like Ryan Shazier, Stephon Tuitt and Alvin Dupree.
Pittsburgh has a long tradition of slowly developing defensive stars, without running out of talent. They certainly ran out of answers over the last two mediocre seasons, but Heyward offers hope that this current crop can turn things around.