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Ideally, the Steelers would have liked to have had a contract extension in place with star defensive lineman Cam Heyward by now.
But with the coronavirus outbreak having shut down the country — including the NFL — that’s been put on hold. And considering the unknown factors involved with how it could affect future revenue streams, as well, things might just stay that way.
At least that’s something for which Heyward is preparing himself.
“I would love for it to get done but obviously it hasn’t,” Heyward said Thursday afternoon of his contract in a Zoom call. “There’s not much more that can happen with everything going on. I have to be patient. Besides my contract, there are a lot of other people that aren’t getting signed. Those rookies are still waiting. Things have to happen and they should. I’ll be ready either way. If I have to go into this year knowing that this might be my last year, so be it.”
Heyward is entering the final season of a six-year, $59.25-million contract extension he signed in 2015. That came before the now 31-year-old Heyward had earned his first All-Pro or Pro Bowl honors.
Now, he’s a three-time Pro Bowl player and has been named first-team All-Pro twice, becoming the only Steelers interior defensive lineman not named Joe Greene to do so. He’s also become one of the unquestioned leaders in the team’s locker room.
According to Spotrac, Heyward’s market value on a new deal would put him in the $16-million range per season. It’s a big price tag, but one he’s earned.
At issue for both Heyward, the Steelers and the rest of the league is the coronavirus outbreak and how it might affect future revenues.
“I think early on it was wait here and see what happens,” Heyward said when asked if there had been any talks to this point. “But I think everything has been halted with coronavirus. It’s definitely halted regular NFL operations. We understand that. We understand this uncharted territory. If football is going to pick up, we have to be ready either way.”
They also have to be ready for a quick ramp up to a season. Heyward, who is now the Steelers’ NFLPA rep following Ramon Foster’s retirement, said the league is expected to announce how it will proceed with the 2020 regular season in the first week of July.
That means things could start to happen quickly after that. The Steelers have until July 15 to work out a potential contract extension with linebacker Bud Dupree, on whom they placed the franchise tag this offseason.
The team would like to get a deal done with Heyward first and then move on to Dupree but currently has just over $5 million in salary cap space with which to work. It could move some money around with other players to help create space, but it might not want to push too much money into the 2021 season considering everything that is happening.
The NFL and NFLPA signed a new 10-year CBA earlier this year before things were shut down. It increases revenue sharing with the players and the expectation was that the salary cap — which is $198.2 million this season — would go up substantially in 2021 and beyond.
Now, with the NFL considering playing games without fans in stadiums and other coronavirus issues, there is the potential the cap could go down next year. The NFL and NFLPA obviously have a vested interest in that not happening and have had discussions about borrowing money against future revenues to keep the cap at least at the same level in 2021.
But there is a lot that needs to be hashed out. That means there is a lot of unknown when it comes to future deals at this time. As Heyward mentioned, the Steelers have yet to sign a single member of their rookie class.
And that is hardly outside the norm this offseason, as well over half of the league’s rookie draft class remains unsigned.
Add in the fact Ben Roethlisberger is coming back off an elbow injury that shut him down after just six quarters last season and is returning to play this year at 38, and the sense of urgency has to be greater than ever before.
“I think we’ve all got to look at that whether there’s COVID or not,” Heyward admitted. “This team is not going to be the same next year. I stress that a lot. It just might be more going forward. We’ve got a great group of guys but some guys have outplayed their contracts and have to move on to greener pastures. That’s just how the game is. We’ve evolved to that. I want everybody to get paid as much as they can. They deserve it. If this last hurrah or whatever it is, we have to be ready for it.”
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