Hines Ward during this Super Bowl Week press conference stated that he wanted to keep playing football. Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE

Hines Ward A Steeler No More?

Reports are swirling around this morning that the Steelers will not be bringing back Hines Ward for the 2012 season.  Numerous outlets, ESPN and NFL Network, are reporting that inside sources of the team have said the Steelers have opted to not pay out Ward’s $4 million pay day in 2012.  Is this the first step in getting Ward a smaller contract, or will he no longer be in Black & Gold?

There a special clause in Ward’s contract that says the Steelers must decide if he is going to be on the roster by March 1st – two weeks before the start of the 2012 season in terms of the business side.  The Steelers have already adjusted the contracts of Ike Taylor and linebackers Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley.  There is speculation that Roethlisberger and Polamalu could be next.  The Steelers are willing to pay out the bonus money in order to get the cap down.  So why not either do the same with Ward, or just give him the veteran minimum?

Could this be a move to free up money to bring back Jerricho Cotchery?  The Steelers only signed him to a one year deal from the Jets.  Close to the end of the season, he was taking over many of Ward’s assignments.  I’m still working on breaking down how Todd Haley likes to call plays – perhaps his schemes have no place for Ward.  Ward is arguably the best blocking wide out to ever play the game.  The Steelers used him in that role time and again throughout his 14 year career, and that’s pretty much all he was used for this season.  Perhaps Haley doesn’t really utilize blocking receivers, which means Ward would be the highest paid cheerleader in the NFL.

It’s clear that Ward wants to play.  He’s said time and again that he wants to, even if that means it’s for a different team (gulp).  He has openly stated how devastated he would be were he to not finish his career in Pittsburgh.  I wish he could have seen this coming… maybe then he could have officially announced that he was retiring after this season, and the team could have pulled another ‘win one for the Gipper’ a la Jerome Bettis back in 2006.

Not having Ward on the team will be a weird feeling.  I stated in a post a while back that he’s been a staple on the team and is a huge part of the fandom of the Steelers.  He’s been a part of the Steelers since I was 18 years old – you know, when I grew up and became an adult in Steelers Nation.  We’ve been talking about this moment all season and more so since November.  As with all things – good things must come to an end.  And they don’t always end the way we want them to.  The hardest thing to see will be Ward in another uniform.  I just hope he signs with someone in the NFC and a true contender for the Super Bowl.  He deserves it, but it will pain me to see him wearing anything but black and gold on Sunday afternoons.

Then again, maybe the Steelers are paving a way to get him the vet minimum.  I guess we’ll no more after we hear from Ward himself.  This certainly makes my frosted flakes taste bitter this morning……

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