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Hines Ward Still A Steeler (For Now)

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Awesome video, as usual, provided  by Benstonium. Nice choice of music, bro.

Hines Ward is still a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. For the time being, anyway. Reports over the weekend surfaced that Hines had been cut in the Black and Gold’s ongoing efforts to get under the salary cap by the official start of the 2012 season in early March. Both the Steelers and Hines himself have issued statements insisting nothing has yet been decided.

Here’s the bottom line: Hines has two more years left on his deal, calling for about $4 million per year. That’s way too much money for a player who is in the twilight of his career. The Steelers need to cut salary and starting with an overpaid number four receiver would seem a natural place. To his credit, Hines realizes his current situation and has repeatedly said  he is willing to throw out his contract and re-sign for the league minimum in order to remain with the Steelers.

With the emergence of Antonio Brown and Manny Sanders as complements to Mike Wallace, Hines has seen his playing time cut back drastically. Sanders battled injury the majority of the season so the Steelers turned to free agent pick-up Jerricho Cotchery rather than Hines when the team went to three wide sets. Cotchery is a free agent, however, and will likely go to a team where he sees more playing time. So the Steelers do need some depth at the position since you can never count on your top three receivers playing the entire season without missing any snaps. The question from the Steelers end is, is Hines acceptable depth?

Scuttlebutt around town is Mike Tomlin, who is pretty merciless when it comes to veterans,  feels Hines is done and wants the team to wash their hands of him. Art Rooney II, however, acknowledges Hines’ status as a Steeler legend and wants to see the team keep him in a token veteran back-up role ala Jerome Bettis. As we’ve already seen this off-season, it appears the Deuce is taking a much more active role in his team’s affairs so it’ll be interesting to see how this situations shakes out. Ordinarily I’m against meddlesome ownership but if Tomlin is truly such a cold-hearted bastard that he can’t appreciate what Hines brings to the table, I’m glad somebody is going over his head.

As I’ve written about previously, I think bringing back Hines would be the right move. I don’t have any illusions about his ability to play. It’s pretty obvious Hines has lost about three gears and simply can’t move well enough to create space and get open consistently. The reason I want him back, though, is for the intangibles. When you watch our young receivers play, they already hustle downfield and throw blocks better than 2/3 of the receivers in the league. That’s Hines’ influence. What’s more, from Terrell Owens to Desean Jackson, we’ve seen prima donna wide receivers wreck offenses time and time again. I’m not comparing Wallace or Sanders to either of those punks but I did get the feeling at times last season that certain players on offense, particularly Wallace, didn’t exactly give maximum effort. Hines Ward provides the kind of veteran leadership and an appreciation for what it means to wear the Black and Gold that some of these young guys need.

One of my earliest Steelers memories is of Franco Harris being traded to the Seattle Seahawks. Of course, you’d never know Franco left town in bitter fashion from the way he shows up at each and every Steeler-related photo op. Thankfully, Steeler Nation was spared a similar indignity when the Bus was running on fumes towards the end of his career. Despite playing a token role, Bettis was the heart and soul of a team that eventually went on to bring home Lombardi Trophy number five. Let’s hope the Steelers learn from the past and do the right thing by bringing back Hines Ward.