The Pittsburgh Steelers can begin training camp later this month with a key piece of business done.
Defensive end Cam Heyward has agreed to a six-year deal with the team, which confirmed the news Thursday night. The deal is worth $59.25 million, a source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, confirming terms first reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Heyward will make about $21 million within the first eight months of the deal, according to a source. That $21 million breaks down to a $12 million signing bonus, a $3 million roster bonus that is due soon, a $1 million base salary for 2015 and a $5 million March roster bonus, a league source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan.
Heyward, 26, tweeted a picture of himself signing the contract that is set to keep him with the team through 2020.
Contract talks between both sides had been productive this summer, and the expectation was that things would heat up approaching camp, which opens July 26. Heyward was scheduled to play on a $7 million option that voids with a long-term deal.
After 53 tackles and 7.5 sacks last season, Heyward is considered a leader of a retooled defense that lost several aging veterans from a year ago. He is the first Steelers end to tie or lead the team in sacks since Aaron Smith in 2004.
Pittsburgh won the AFC North title last season in spite of a defense that slipped to 18th in yards allowed and 27th against the pass thanks in part to a pass rush that struggled to generate consistent pressure.
Changes came quickly in the offseason. Hall of Fame defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau left and was replaced by linebackers coach Keith Butler. Longtime defensive end Brett Keisel, who served as Heyward's mentor, was released while safety Troy Polamalu and cornerback Ike Taylor retired.
Heyward's future never really was in doubt. The Steelers exercised their fifth-year option on his rookie deal last spring, and nailing him down long-term became a priority once quarterback Ben Roethlisberger agreed to a contract extension in March. Heyward becomes the Steelers' second-highest-paid player behind Roethlisberger.
The 31st overall pick in the 2011 draft, Heyward has 106 tackles, 15 sacks and 12 passes defended in 64 consecutive starts, which is tied for the third-longest active streak among NFL defensive ends.
In June, New Orleans Saints 3-4 end Cameron Jordan signed a six-year, $62 million contract with $33.5 million guaranteed. Jordan has made a Pro Bowl and Heyward hasn't, but Heyward is now the highest-paid 5-technique end without a Pro Bowl appearance.
Heyward told ESPN in June that Butler would create more one-on-one matchups for defensive linemen and said he is "salivating" at the possibilities.
"I can't wait until the season starts," Heyward said.
Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.