What most thought was inevitability, still stings a little when it became a reality yesterday afternoon. The Steelers decided to release Hines Ward rather than considering his request to restructure his contract for a pay cut and one more season with the Black & Gold. This isn’t the first time the Steelers have made “business” decisions like this. Typically, they’ve been spot-on when it comes to realizing when it’s time to cut ties or hold on for another season. It doesn’t make it any easier on this Steeler fan’s heart, though. It’s not every day that a player like Hines Ward is released.
Hines played a noticeably diminished role in the offense this season, often taking a back seat to Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, and Jerricho Cotchery. Hines had his lowest numbers of his career in spite of hitting the milestones of 1,000 career receptions and over 12,000 career receiving yards. Hines will most likely always be known by two very distinct traits; his amazing blocking and hard hits, and his ability to deliver those blocks and hits with an infectious smile. Drafted in the third round in 1998 from Georgia, Hines has missed only 7 games in his 14 seasons with the Steelers. Hines led the Steelers in receptions for 11 consecutive seasons and broke nearly every single receiving franchise record held by either HOF’ers Swann or Stallworth.
The business side of the NFL often rears its ugly head this time of year. Although Steeler Nation likes to think of the organization as a family, it’s still a business. That’s not to say that this decision was about money. Well, it kind of was since the cut frees up a little over $3 million in cap room, but the front office never even considered a restructure with Ward, which he stated repeatedly he’d be willing to do. This was a decision based on production. The Steelers clearly felt that Wards abilities would not be able to contribute to their 2012 success. That’s the bottom line. Although Hines feels he still has some football left in him, the Steelers clearly felt that the direction the offense is going into wasn’t going to have room for Ward.
The Steelers have let go of some high-profile and fan-favorite players before. Most memorably back in 1984 they released HOF’er Franco Harris, who ended up finishing his career with the Seattle Seahawks. The one time, in my opinion, the Steelers missed on letting a player go to soon was when Rod Woodson reluctantly left as a free agent in 1996. Woodson went on to win a Super Bowl with the Ravens in 2001. Alan Faneca, Greg Lloyd, Joey Porter, and Kevin Greene are just a few more names released by the Steelers. With six Lombardi trophies, you have to think maybe the Steelers know what they’re doing. They’re still regarded as one of the most respected and well-run franchises in all of sports, not just football. Releasing players is just another part of the business that is the NFL.
Hines released a statement after the news broke stating that he’s looking forward to playing in the NFL in the 2012 season. All of us selfish Steeler fans would much rather see him hang up the cleats now and tune into whatever NFL Network or ESPN show he’s surely to join in the future. Seeing Hines in another jersey would be quite odd, but if Hines still wants to play and wants to go through all the offseason preparation, more power to him. Hines also added in his statement that he will always bleed black & gold and thanked Steeler Nation for their years of support.
I’d like to thank Hines Ward for his 14 seasons of hits on Ed Reed, touchdown dances, and countless smiles after delivering or receiving a violent block. Hines is without a doubt, in my opinion, a future Hall Of Famer and will always be considered one of the greatest receivers in Pittsburgh Steelers history.
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