The Steelers will release WR Hines Ward, the team announced on Wednesday.
"We had a conversation today with Hines Ward and informed him that we plan to release him of his contract prior to the start of the 2012 NFL calendar year," Steelers president Art Rooney II told the team's website.
Ward, who was drafted by Pittsburgh in 1998, spent 14 seasons with the Steelers and is the team's all-time leader in receptions (1,000), receiving yards (12,083), receiving touchdowns (85) and 100-yard receiving games (29).
"Hines has been an integral part of our success since we drafted him in 1998 and we will forever be grateful for what he has helped us achieve," Rooney said. "He has meant so much to this organization, both on and off the field, and we appreciate his efforts over the past 14 years. Hines' accomplishments are numerous, and he will always be thought of as one of the all-time great Steelers. We wish him nothing but the best."
Last season was Ward's least productive since his rookie year. He finished with 46 catches for 381 yards and two touchdowns in 15 games. Ward had four consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons from 2001-04 and had three seasons (’02, ’03 and ’05), with double-digit receiving touchdowns.
Ward released the following statement, via Andrew Siciliano of NFL Network:
"This isn't how I wanted this chapter of my career to end. I did everything in my power to remain a Steeler and finish what I started here 14 years ago. I want to thank the organization, my teammates and coaches and everyone who made my run as a Steeler the best years of my life. To Mr. Rooney, thank you for allowing me to play for one of the greatest organizations in the world. To my fans and in particular, Steeler Nation, thank you for your support and all the great memories. I gave my heart and soul for you every down and I will always bleed black and gold. I do feel that I still have more football left in me and I am looking forward to playing in the NFL, again, this upcoming season."
Steelers WR Mike Wallace is a restricted free agent and WR Jerricho Cotchery is an unrestricted free agent. The only receivers under contract for 2012 who caught a pass last season for the Steelers are Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders.
The way we see it
This does not come as a huge surprise. Rumors swirled earlier in February that Ward would be released. At the time, Ward responded to the rumor by saying that he wanted to finish his career with the Steelers and that he was willing to restructure his contract. Obviously, the two sides didn't meet eye to eye on his future.
Ward will go down as one of the greatest players in the franchise's rich history, and we can't help but wonder if his career is finished.