Heyward on playing this season, protests & more

So many questions: Like everyone else, Cameron Heyward is waiting on word of what the definitive plans for the 2020 NFL season are going to entail with the COVID-19 pandemic still in the forefront.

At this point the 2020 season is anticipated to start on time with the NFL and NFLPA working on safety guidelines that fall under the recommendations of the CDC. But there are still more details to work out, and Heyward and his teammates are just waiting to hear what they are.

"I think we are just dealing with the unknown. We like to be calculated and have all of the facts before we commit to something," said Heyward during a zoom call with local media. "With everything that keeps changing we really can't grasp what is going on. I talk to my teammates almost every day with what is going on, what to expect. We know the NFL and NFLPA have to come to an agreement. My main thing is I want all of my guys to have the information first. I don't want to be in a situation where we agree to something when a lot of guys are still up in the air about it."

Heyward said he would have some concerns about playing this year because he has asthma and is a 'bigger guy.' But he also said he understands the risk.

"I am going to take all of the precautions," said Heyward. "I just have to see it in writing that everyone else is taking the precautions. Whether it's the staff, or the bus drivers. It's a lot of moving parts that go along with it. It can't be something that is rushed. I know the NFLPA and NFL have been working on it for a while. There are so many parts that have to be cleared before me and my family have to feel comfortable."

Despite his concerns, he said players will be ready to go when they get the green light.

"I know there has been a lot of questions about how many preseason games, and I think we are pushing it back," said Heyward. "I know we have a lot of teammates that want to play. I don't think we are floating around the idea of postponing the season. If the NFL does postpone it and moves it back to buying us some extra time, so be it and we'll be ready. Right now, I think everybody is training under the unknown and we don't know when things are taking place. I think around July 4 or 5 a lot of information should be coming down from higher ups. We are waiting for that. We are going to have to make a lot of decisions for ourselves. We have to make sure we have all of the questions answered."

Playing for the fans: If there is one thing everyone on the Steelers defense loves it's the support and the noise the fans bring to Heinz Field, and even on the road in many cases.

But fan attendance is also in question due to the pandemic, and Heyward said whether they are in the stands or not they will still go all out for them.

"Man, I love our fans and the emotion they bring to the games," said Heyward. "That doesn't stop our fans from watching on TV. We're in the entertainment business. We are in the business of winning. Our job is going to be play for the fans on TV. I love football. I love the game. I will be raring to go once we get started."

Heyward joked that if they played without the fans, "We are just going to be playing Renegade throughout the entire game." But he also said in some ways it could be an advantage to the defense.

"One thing that is going to be interesting to see if we don't have fans is how teams are going to go about calling plays and the cadence," said Heyward. "The smart ones are going to pick up on that and use it to their advantage. Especially in the division. If you really get a good grasp and hear a quarterback talking out loud, especially without fan noise, you should have an advantage as a defense."

Staying united: Following the death of George Floyd in the hands of police in Minnesota, peaceful protests have taken place in cities across the country to end systemic racism and police brutality as a part of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Heyward knows there are real issues in communities across the United States and he has no problem with his teammates making a statement regarding the need for change and wants the team to stay united to do that.

"I think we want to stay united in what we do and what we want to accomplish," said Heyward. "Coach (Mike) Tomlin has always told me if we win a Super Bowl that isn't enough in the City of Pittsburgh. We want to leave lasting change among our community as well. For us, we are going to have those opportunities to branch out and be individuals and affect our community. I felt like protesting, no one really paid attention to the issues Colin Kaepernick was talking about. They were mostly concerned about what he was doing than his message. This time around you see the evidence and what he was talking about. These are real issues that really affect our communities. This is a chance for a lot of guys to speak up. We all have different backgrounds. We all have seen these tragedies happen and it's got to stop. I can only speak as a black man, and these issues hit home way more because my family is going to have to deal with this for the rest of their lives."

Tough time to talk contract: One of the other factors of COVID-19 and the uncertainty that has come with it is a lack of contracts getting done in the league. And Heyward is among players league-wide who will be entering the final year of their contract, waiting to see what is coming. Heyward wants to get a contract extension and continue his career in the black and gold, but right now things are quiet.

"I would love for it to get done, but obviously it hasn't," said Heyward. "There's not really much more that can go about with everything going on. I just have to be patient. Besides my contract there are a lot of other people that have to get signed. The rookies are still waiting. Things have to happen, and they should. I will be ready either way. If I have to go into this year knowing this might be my last year, so be it.

"Early on it was wait here and see what happens. Everything has been halted with the coronavirus. We understand that. This is uncharted territory. If football is going to pick up, we have to be ready either way."

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