Cutting ties with a guy like Hines Ward is never easy. Nobody wants to do it and you look like the bad guy when it happens, but the smart business decision is to let Hines walk and find a way to bring back Jerricho Cotchery.
Take the emotion out of it and look at it objectively and you see that it’s the unfortunate reality of what needs to happen. Ward has been the best receiver in team history, his legacy is secure and one day he’ll be in Canton. Hines’ career stats speak for themselves: 217 games played, starting in 190 of them, 1000 receptions, 12,083 receiving yards, and 85 Touchdowns. That’s a resume worthy of any accolade you can come up with.
In this day and age though you can no longer hold on to aging veterans just because of what they’ve meant to the team. Nobody likes to see such a legendary player leave on bad terms but even Ward knows this is a business. If the team does cut him he won’t throw a fit and lash out on Facebook or Twitter saying how he was run off the team. He won’t like it, nobody would, but it’s a reality that I’m sure he’s been contemplating for quite some time now.
Jerricho Cotchery is of the same mold that Ward is, a tough player who can make clutch receptions in traffic. He can block with the best of them and has been around long enough to know what his role on the team is and excel at it. He only signed a 1 yr. deal in training camp last year so he is an unrestricted free agent but the Steelers need to take a good hard look at keeping him around. Cotchery has been in the league 8 years, 7 of them with the Jets, so he’s still got many years left a head of him to contribute and and mentor young players. He is literally the younger version of Ward.
He’s not a guy who’s going to make waves in the locker room or someone you have to worry about disrupting the team chemistry on the field. With 3 young talented receivers in Wallace, Brown, and Sanders; Cotchery would fit in nicely just as Ward has for so long. Consider too that if something happens to any of them you’ll want a viable 4th option who can step in and play for an extended period of time. As much as we love Ward, how much confidence do you have that if he had to play a significant amount of snaps every week that he’d be able to hold up? That’s not a knock against Ward, but rather just father time, and it hits every athlete hard. Your pride says you can still go out and play but your body has other ideas.
As far as the salary cap goes, his $4 million dollar price tag could be restructured and they could make it work if they want. I wouldn’t put anything past Omar Khan to work out a deal for anyone, he’s the best in the business. However you are just prolonging the inevitable. If you let Cotchery leave for another team it’s a big risk and one that the smart NFL franchise shouldn’t make. If Ward is kept on the roster instead of Cotchery, you’re just going to have to find another viable 4th receiver within a year or 2 anyway. Why put yourself through that if you don’t have too? Any team would love to have the trio of receivers that the Steelers do, no question about it, but having a guy like Cotchery available as well just makes sense. He won’t come at a high price tag, certainly they could sign him to a cap friendly 3 yr. deal and take a big step towards being as secure and prepared for the future as you can be at one position.
Hines has said as recently as yesterday that he still wants to play and be in Pittsburgh. I for one love Ward, he’s been one of my favorite players since he came out of Georgia. As much as I would hate to see him play in the another uniform next year, it’s just the reality of today’s NFL.