Today, Leap Day 2012, the Steelers announced the release of veteran wide receiver Hines Ward. Steeler Nation as a whole is in mourning. But, it isn't a leap to say that it was the right choice.
Hines Ward was drafted in 1998 out of Georgia. As a wide receiver for the Bulldogs (1994–1997), Ward's 149 career receptions for 1,965 yards placed him second in team history. He also played tailback and totaled 3,870 all-purpose yards. In 1997, Hines hauled in 55 passes and scored six TDs, which earned him All-SEC honors in the process. Ward played some quarterback his sophomore year, and holds Georgia bowl records for pass attempts, pass completions, and passing yards in the 1995 Peach Bowl in which he completed 31 of 59 passes for 413 yards. He also received his Bachelor's Degree in consumer economics from Georgia.
It didn't take long for Ward to make an impact with the Steelers, catching 61 balls and scoring seven touchdowns. Ward went to bigger and better numbers, including six 1,000 yard receiving seasons, four Pro Bowls, a Super Bowl MVP and, appropriately, 86 touchdowns.
Not bad for a man missing an ACL in his left knee, which he lost during a bicycle accident during childhood.
I'm sure I speak for all of Steeler Nation when I say, Thank you, Hines Ward. We'll miss that smile.
But, as Michael Corleone famously said, "It's not personal, Sonny, it's strictly business."
When you start to look at the business side of this, it was the right move. We look at players through Black and Gold colored glasses. We embrace our favorite players, even love them. But, it's still a business and the players know this. It's about wins. It's about Rings. The business side of things assures we have the right players who bring us those Super Bowl trophies with which Steelers fans are so elated to pose.
Naturally, Ward certainly wanted to come back. He's been open about it. His statement today even reflected as much. It read this way:
"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."
The organization put out it's own statement on http://steelers.com regarding the release as well, with Rooney stating:
"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. 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."
Again, thank you, Hines Ward.
But, Ward's numbers, as I pointed out in other posts, were simply going to be too high to justify keeping a 14-year veteran who can't play special teams anymore, would be a 5th wide receiver at best and who has lost a step. That's on top of the one he didn't have in the first place. Getting out now is best. Again, sell high to avoid losses.
As I've said in previous blogs, I'm no salary cap guru, so go to Ian Whetstone of steelcityinsider.net for specific breakdowns. But, let's look at those aforementioned numbers briefly.
Ward still has a signing bonus proration this year and next of $610,000 each year. So, right now Ward is scheduled to count $4.61 million against the cap in 2012 and 2013. They could cut his base salary to $925,000, the 10-plus-year veteran minimum, but the '12 salary cap proration amount of $610,000 still would add to that $925,000 base, a $1.535 million base salary cap hit.
Saturday Mark Kaboly reported via his Twitter account, "The pay cut I am hearing Hines Ward would've been OK with in order to stay with #Steelers was 2 million. He is scheduled to make 4 million." If they restructured and turned $2 million of his $4 million base salary into signing bonus, his 2012 cap hit would then be $3.61 million. To bottom line this, Kaboly also pointed out that the Steelers saved $3.39 million against the cap by cutting Ward.
Again, for an aging wide receiver who can't play special teams and would be a fourth receiver at best, it just doesn't add up.
There's growing sentiment that Ward is in for a rude awakening. There's speculation that he won't be able to catch on anywhere else. Mark Kaboly and David Todd, the latter of http://hammerspeaks.com and @hammerspeaks on Twitter, said that "he won't retire. Never" and that "it won't end well" respectively.
It was Tim Hasselbeck on NFL: 32 who said of Ward: "This should be a retirement party. He can't run anymore."
Mark Kaboly even suggested that Big Ben secretly loves Ward being gone. That Ben is the unquestioned leader of offense now. But, that's for another blog.
At the same time, though, such a move is hardly unprecedented.
Chuck Noll cut defensive end L.C. Greenwood during the 1982 training camp. The Steelers cut Franco Harris before the 1984 season over a contract dispute. Franco ended his career with the Seattle Seahawks. Mike Webster was "retired", Bruce Arians can appreciate this, after the 1988 season, then played two more seasons with the Chiefs. Rod Woodson and Alan Faneca each reluctantly left as free agents. Greg Lloyd, Joey Porter, Carnell Lake...the list continues.
It's nothing personal, Hines, it's strictly business. It's about winning.
In other news, the Steelers hired Shaun Sarrett, most recently with Duke University, as their new offensive quality control coach.
He's basically an entry level coach, similar to a college's graduate assistant. They prepare the statistical analysis as well as the initial video study of upcoming teams. They chart down-and-distance situations, field position, substitutions, etc..., and then gives that report to the team's offensive or defensive staff when they begin their game planning each week during the regular season.
For more on the details of the position, follow this link and read Jim Legwold's column on it: Q&A: "Quality control" coach is entry-level position in NFL - The Denver Post http://www.denverpost.com/broncos/ci_17198145#ixzz1nqUDI8bc