In the latter years of his career in Pittsburgh, running back Jerome Bettis willingly took less money in order to remain with the Steelers. Receiver Hines Ward would have done the same thing, if asked.
He wasn’t asked.
Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that the Steelers didn’t offer to keep Ward at a reduced contract. Which means that, ultimately, it wasn’t about money but perceived ability.
Ward already had fallen far enough down the depth chart to make it hard to keep him around without expecting him to contribute on special teams. And so it’s not a surprise that they made the always-difficult decision to assess the player without regard to the name on the back of the jersey.
Ward could have freed up as much as $3.075 million by dropping his salary from $4 million to the veteran minimum (for players with 10 or more years in the league) of $925,000. Under the minimum salary benefit, the Steelers could have terminated his contract and eventually re-signed him to a one-year, $925,000 contract that would have counted as only $540,000 against the salary cap — nearly $3.5 million less than his number entering the season.
Instead, the Steelers opted for a divorce.
At least they didn’t try to claim that Ward had decided to retire.