Now that Ward has learned that he will be released and also issued a statement which includes the fact that he wants to play in the NFL next season, there are several likely destinations where he could end up. It’s hard to think about but time marches on and now so does Hines. One can hardly blame Ward for wanting to continue playing, he feels like he has more football left in him so why not? His lack of production last season in Pittsburgh wasn’t a reflection of his inability to play, but rather Mike Tomlin and the coaches deciding to go with youth and speed rather than veteran tenacity. Sure he’s lost a step, father time is ruthless, but he can still contribute. There is no blame to be cast, it’s just the way the NFL is these days, you can no longer hang onto aging veterans when new, upstart talent is ready to take over.
As far as Ward goes there’s no way I would see him signing on with a team that isn’t a contender for a championship now, at least that’s how I think about it if I were him. An organization who’s got an established Quarterback, solid coaching staff, and a good overall offense where he can fit in and contribute are key factors in the decision. He’s only got a couple years left at the most so going to a young team still a few years away from serious contention wouldn’t make sense. He doesn’t need to money so every chance from here on out is an opportunity to win more championships.
Immediately my first guess is New England, much as it pains me to say. They love picking up players like Ward and bringing them a long for a Super Bowl run. He wouldn’t have to be the primary target there but could be another safety valve for Brady.
Another option and I shutter to even think it, is Baltimore. Ray Lewis and Hines are good friends off the field so don’t discount the possibility. Even Suggs, who hates everything about Pittsburgh respects the play of Ward. Now whether or not Ed Reed and the fanbase of purple town could stand Hines on their side, is a different story. Makes me sick just thinking about it, but from a football standpoint it would be a good destination because the Steelers and Ravens are such mirrors of each other. The offenses would be virtually the same other than the terminology he’d have to learn.
If Peyton Manning were still with the Colts (he might as well be gone), that would be an intriguing option for Ward too but no sense going down that trail unless you think playing for Bruce Arians is on the top of his priority list. Yes, Arians did help Hines get his 1,000 career catches and I’m sure BA is already making plans to contact Ward, but if I’m Hines I pass on the Colts; Andrew Luck or not.
Atlanta is another possible destination and quite honestly a very realistic one. The Falcons have a young, hotshot Quarterback in Matt Ryan, a strong running game with Turner, and young receivers who can benefit from a veteran presence like Ward on their team. The Falcons remind me a lot of the Steelers in that they play tough defense, like to run the ball, and have big time targets in the passing game.
If Ward would somehow decide to go elsewhere, say a young team building for the future then there are a myriad of possibilities: the Dolphins, Bengals, Browns, Bills, Panthers, Vikings, and of course Pittsburgh west Arizona just to name a few. Each of those teams could benefit from a guy with the status and credentials of Ward.
No matter where Hines ends up, it will be hard to swallow not seeing him in the black n gold anymore but as a fan who respects him to no end I wish him the best.