After 14 seasons, 1,000 receptions and 85 touchdowns, Hines Ward's tenure in Pittsburgh is all but over. It was once a matter of if, now it's when, and team president Art Rooney II provided those details Wednesday.
“We had a conversation today with Hines Ward and informed him that we plan to release him of his contract prior to the start of the 2012 NFL calendar year,” Rooney told the team’s website.
The 2011 season was Ward's worst since his rookie campaign; he lost his starting job to second-year standout Antonio Brown and managed just 46 catches for 381 yards (and a career-worst 8.3 YPC average), and two touchdowns. Part of Ward's decline can be blamed on age (he's 35), but he also suffered a severely sprained ankle in Week 4's loss to the Texans.
Whatever the explanation, the Steelers are ready to move on without him, which means that the 2012 offense will feature quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throwing to Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Mike Wallace -- assuming the team extends his contract (he won't be franchised, at least to hear general manager Kevin Colbert at last week's combine). The three wideouts, none older than 25, constitute one of the league's most dynamic receiver corps, which should make new offensive coordinator Todd Haley's job a lot easier.