"I hate talking about it in the past tense like I am already gone, but I have to be ready for the reality if that comes about," Heyward said Wednesday, according to Mark Kaboly of The Athletic. "I love being a Pittsburgh Steeler, but if my time is up, my time is up."
Heyward signed a six-year, $59.2-million extension with the Steelers in 2015. The 31-year-old is now entering the last year of his current deal, and despite the possibility of the star defensive lineman becoming a free agent in 2021, Heyward says there haven't been any recent discussions about a new contract.
"We have talked about it (prior), but things happen," he said. "We haven't had any talks as of late, and it may be due to the virus, I don't know. I don't know if their minds have changed. I understand their policy and respect their policy. If I have to play this year and go into next year as a free agent, then so be it. That's not going to deter me from being the best teammate, the best person, the best player I can be."
The Steelers have a history of not inking contract extensions with the season underway, which means both parties have until Sept. 14 to agree on a new pact. Pittsburgh faces the New York Giants in its regular-season opener that night.
"I think everything got halted a little bit with the virus, and everybody pressed on the brakes," Heyward said. "But I have understood their policies in the past about not going forward during the season. We are living in a time that things are changing rapidly. I am just taking it day by day, and we will see what happens."
The Steelers drafted Heyward in the first round in 2011. The Ohio State product immediately impressed as an elite run stopper and became one of the premier interior defensive linemen in football after improving his pass-rush production. The two-time All-Pro amassed 29 sacks in the last three seasons, four more sacks than he had in his first six campaigns combined.
Hayward has made three consecutive Pro Bowl appearances.