With the Steelers facing the start of the long offseason, decisions will start being made about the future of the roster.
One player to watch on that front is Hines Ward. Ward turns 36 in March and after seeing his role cut dramatically in his 14th NFL season, there’s been some talk that he might be ready to call it a career. Ward, who has two years left on his contract, said last month that he hasn’t been thinking about retiring, but a report from Mike Freeman of CBSSports.com on Monday sings a different tune.
Freeman reports that he got a text from a Steelers player after the 29-23 overtime loss to the Broncos saying that the “expectations around the team” are that Ward will not return for another season. The player isn’t Ward so there’s obviously a pretty big grain of salt in the mix, but the 2011 season didn’t provide much evidence of a bright future for Ward.
Whatever future he has might not be in Pittsburgh. With a strong receiving corps in place and a need to get younger before next season, the Steelers might not have a place for Ward on their roster. Cutting ties with a player who has 1,000 career catches and two Super Bowl rings as a Steeler wouldn’t be all that easy, but similar moves have been made before and the Steelers haven’t shown an aversion to making tough decisions like that in the past.
If this is the end for Ward, you can bet there will be a spirited debate about his Hall of Fame credentials in a few years. It will be the rare case when a wide receiver’s blocking ability plays a major role in the discussion.