Report: Steelers won’t bring back Hines Ward in 2012

Pittsburgh Steelers Hines Ward reaches the 12.000 yards receiving milestone during the 35-7 Steeler win over the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on December 4, 2011. Pittsburgh Steelers Hines Ward is the first Pittsburgh Steeler to reach that mark and the 19th overall in NFL history. UPI/Archie Carpenter

Jason La Canfora of the NFL Network is reporting that the Steelers will not bring back receiver Hines Ward for the 2012 season.

“He has one year left on his deal worth $4 million,” said La Canfora. “According to my sources, he won’t be back there. So that’s $4 million off the books.”

Kind of cold there, huh, Jason? The man has given a lot to that franchise so I’m sure true Pittsburgh fans aren’t looking at him as just “$4 million off the books.”

Ward, 35, has won two Super Bowls as a member of the Steelers and three Pittsburgh MVP awards (2002, 2003, 2005). He’s also appeared in four Pro Bowls (2001, 2002, 2003, 2004) and was the Super Bowl XL MVP.

The former Georgia Bulldog has totaled exactly 1,000 receptions for 12,083 yards and 85 touchdowns over his dazzling career after being selected in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft. He’s only played for one team since ’98.

Assuming he doesn’t retire, Ward may get looks as a No. 3 on a receiver-needy team. But considering he doesn’t play special teams, he isn’t likely to return to Pittsburgh – even on a restructured deal. It would be weird to see Ward in anything but black and yellow but stranger things have happened.

After all, Jerry Rice was once a Seattle Seahawk.

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Ward frustrated over lack of opportunities on final drive of Super Bowl

Pittsburgh Steelers Gary Russell (L), Hines Ward (C) and Mike Wallace enter the field before the start of Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas on February 6, 2011. UPI/David Silpa

Hines Ward expressed his frustrations to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette about not having more opportunities to make plays on the Steelers’ final drive against the Packers in Super Bowl XLV. But as usual, he was professional about it.

Ward thought they’d do it right until the end, when they had a first-down on their 13 and two minutes to go. However, without criticizing anyone, he was not happy he did not get much of an opportunity on that drive. Heath Miller caught the first pass for 15 yards. Ward caught the next for 5 yards — which wasted about 30 seconds because Antwaan Randle El acknowledged he lined up on the wrong side. The next three passes all were aimed at Mike Wallace but never connected.

“I’m thinking deja vu, here we go again,” said Ward, who caught seven passes for 78 yards and one touchdown in the game. “Two minutes, let’s go down there. I really felt like I was in a zone, that anything that came my way it was going to get caught no matter what. I didn’t get an opportunity. I would like to have gotten opportunities [on the final series] but it didn’t happen.”

Spoken like a true competitor. Ward has been around long enough to know that criticizing coaches or teammates gets you nowhere fast. If you’re a winner, you want the ball in your hands in crunch time and there’s no doubt Ward is a winner. I’m sure Mike Tomlin appreciates that his veteran receiver wanted more chances to make plays in the clutch and expressed his frustrations without throwing anyone under the bus.

On a related topic, Ward will have two surgeries this week, one on his left knee and the other on his left thumb. As of right now, the Steelers expect him to be back in uniform next year if there’s a season.

How does Cromartie plan to deal with Ward? Well choke him, of course.

Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Hines Ward (86) catches this second quarter pass and runs it in for a touchdown against the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium in Miami on October 24, 2010. UPI/Michael Bush

I thought the Jets were being rather quiet this week. Turns out they were just waiting for Sunday to talk a little trash.

The Jets’ defensive backs are well aware of Hines Ward’s reputation of throwing blindside blocks and will apparently look to deliver a message to him early.


“We’re going to deal with him early so he knows what type of game it’s going to be, and that none of that stuff is being tolerated,” Jets safety James Ihedigbo said.

Like a tone-setting hit?

“Hell yeah,” the safety said.

Safety Eric Smith hesitated to say what would happen if Ward serves up any cheap shots on Sunday. Why? Because Smith is worried such words might incur a fine from the league.

“If I finish what I said and then do what I planned on doing, I’m going to get fined,” Smith said.

Cromartie said that he doesn’t really care if Ward hits opponents with blindside blocks — as long as he can hit back.

“I really don’t care. You smash him in the mouth, he’s going to smash back, whatever,” Cromartie said. “Does he do it while you’re not looking? Yeah, he does. But who doesn’t?”

The Jets corner allowed that Ward’s hits “can be” dirty. When such hits occur, Cromartie suggests that players “grab [him] by the throat and choke [him].”

Only the Jets could make a conference championship game even more interesting than it already is.

Should Big Ben address his teammates?

While talking to the NFL Network’s Rich Eisen during a televised interview on Wednesday, Steelers’ receiver Hines Ward said that Ben Roethlisberger should address his teammates in wake of what has transpired this offseason.

“A lot of players really don’t know the situation, other than what we hear in the news or the media,” Ward explained. “I think when he addresses the whole team going into training camp, we can all put it behind us and move forward.”

There was certainly nothing malicious in Ward’s statement. He wasn’t calling Big Ben out, nor was he suggesting that the Steelers haven’t embraced him upon his return to the practice field. What he is saying is that it would be a good idea if the team’s two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback addressed his teammates in order to put the situation behind him so they can move on as a team.

And I happen to agree.

Roethlisberger has ever right to keep his personal matters to himself and if he decides to do that, then he doesn’t deserve to be criticized. I wouldn’t want my dirty laundry to be aired out in front of a group of my peers, nor would anyone else. But Big Ben is already past that point.

Thanks to the media, his teammates already have a grasp on what happened and they’ve already drawn their own conclusions. But if he were to briefly stand up in front of the team and reaffirm his commitment to them, the Steelers and to winning, it might go a long way in putting the situation to rest. He doesn’t have to share details or even apologize – he just needs to kill the very large elephant in the room so that big bastard doesn’t sit there all season.

In general, people want to forgive and move on. I’m willing to bet that if Big Ben opens up to his teammates before training camp (or whenever) that he won’t have to say another word about the situation the rest of the season because it’ll be done. Again, he isn’t obligated to say anything. But given the importance of his position, his role with the team and how close professional athletes generally are, it might be in Roethlisberger’s best interest if he takes Ward’s suggestion to heart.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

Big Ben can return to Steelers next week

Roger Goodell has seen enough in the early stages of Ben Roethlisberger’s behavioral evaluation to grant the quarterback permission to re-join the Steelers next week. However, Goodell still hasn’t decided whether or not to reduce Big Ben’s suspension from six to four games.

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

“Based on the reports and recommendations of our medical experts, commissioner Goodell advised the Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger [Thursday] that he is cleared to return to team activities beginning next week,” The NFL said in a statement. “The commissioner will continue to monitor Roethlisberger’s progress as he begins the next phase of his recommended plan and will meet with Roethlisberger again at the appropriate time.

“There has been no decision on any modification to the length of Roethlisberger’s suspension. In his April 21 disciplinary decision, commissioner Goodell announced that Roethlisberger is suspended without pay for the first six games of the regular season. The commissioner said he would review Roethlisberger’s progress prior to the start of the regular season and consider whether to reduce the suspension to four games. Failure to cooperate and follow his plan could result in a longer suspension,” the statement concluded.

It’ll be interesting to see what the reaction of Roethlisberger’s teammates will be when he returns next week. Usually teammates are very accepting of someone after they’ve gone through an ordeal or a suspension. But players like Hines Ward have been vocal about how Big Ben has let the team down, so I’m curious to see whether or not it’ll be business as usual in Pittsburgh next week.

Of course, even if his teammates are displeased with Roethlisberger and his actions over the past two years, he’s still their quarterback. He helps them win games and usually, players can separate what a guy does off the field from what he does on it. So chances are that his teammates will say all the right things to the media and try to not let his issues become a bigger distraction than it already is.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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