Steelers exercise option on Heyward deal


PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers have picked up the option year on defensive end Cameron Heyward’s contract in a move that was a matter of when and not if.

Heyward is now signed through the 2015 season though the Steelers will try to ink their 2011 first-round pick to a long-term deal before he gets to the final year of his contract.

Per the collective bargaining agreement brokered in 2011, first-round draft picks can sign four-year contracts with a team option for a fifth year.

The Steelers had until May 3 to pick up the option year on Heyward’s rookie deal.

Heyward, who turns 25 in early May, is one of the cornerstones of a defense that is in transition.

He led the Steelers with 31 quarterback pressures in 2013 despite not starting until the fifth game of the season and tied for second on the team with five sacks.

The 6-5, 288-pounder had been stuck behind 2009 first-round pick Ziggy Hood before beating him out last season. Hood signed a four-year, $16 million contract with the Jaguars last month.

Heyward, the penultimate pick in the first round of the 2011 draft, had not started a game before emerging last season. His five sacks doubled his output in his first two NFL seasons combined.