Hines Ward’s legacy as a Steeler great has long since been cemented before this past year when he was relegated to a much less active role in the offense then he’s used to having. Ward has been a staple in the Steelers offense since his sophomore year in the league back in 1999. Since then he’s played in all 16 regular season games each year with the exception of 3 seasons. Even in those 3 years he never played in less than 13 games. He’s been a 1,000+ yd. receiver 6 times in his career and twice finished with 975 yds. He owns every significant Steelers receiving record and is regarded by most at this point as the best to ever put on a Pittsburgh uniform as a pass catcher. He’s been the ultimate team player, competitor, and revolutionized the art of the blocking Wide Receiver.
Now in 2012, the Steelers are in some pretty serious salary cap trouble and will need to trim approximately $25 million off their current payroll just to be compliant for the upcoming year. Ward is due about $4 million if his situation stays status quo but that’s not an option at this point. No NFL team is going to pay backup receiver that much money and Hines knows he’ll have to restructure if he wants to return. He’s said he wants to come back to Pittsburgh and is willing to restructure that deal but only if the Steelers want him. How could they not want the great Hines Ward?
At this point it’s not a matter of wanting him; it’s a matter of looking towards the future. If Mike Tomlin and his staff really want to make the tough decisions to move the Steelers forward, then cutting ties with Hines Ward may be the best way to go. Pittsburgh has a long history of being tied at the hip with veteran players, making sure they take care of the guys who “got them there”. However they also have a history of letting players go at just the right time. Ward is one of those Bill Cowher carry over players that is nearing the end of his career. Father time is not a friendly face when it comes to professional athletes and he’s knocking on Hines Ward’s locker as we speak.
Ward still believes he can play in the league and if the Steelers don’t bring him back he could very well go to another franchise for the last couple years of his career. Blasphemy you say?! Hines Ward in anything other than a Steelers uniform just wouldn’t seem right, but its reality folks. Tomlin and his new Offensive Coordinator need to build for the future and unfortunately that may include no Hines at Heinz.
They have another veteran who’s publicly said he wants to come back to the team after signing a 1 yr. free agent contract for 2011, in Jerricho Cotchery. He’ll be 30 when the team travels to Latrobe for training camp this summer, having just finished up his 8th season in the NFL. A younger version of Hines, Cotchery would come much cheaper and last longer than Ward will be able to. He is capable of the same type of clutch plays and hardnosed tenacity that Ward is known for and also would give you that veteran presence that the young Steelers receivers can use as they grow.
It’s a tough pill to swallow but this is the most important off season the Steelers have had in a long, long time. As much as we all love Hines and what he has meant to this team, keeping Cotchery around is the smart move for the future because you most likely won’t be able to keep both. Both players want the ball, and rightfully so, but neither will be a starter so why not keep the younger of the two, lock him up to a 3 yr. deal and set yourself up good for the future. In addition, should the Steelers not be able to secure the services of all 3 of their young players in the future, you have a guy in Jerricho who can step in and be productive while you draft replacements. Keeping Cotchery around is the smart, football decision here.