Friday, July 29, 2005


Well, the Steelers have gone and done it. They've pissed off Hines Ward to the point that if he doesn't have a new contract by Sunday, he's prepared to miss training camp and the regular season as well. And he's right to do so. Look, we're not talking about Terrell Owens here. This isn't a situation where Ward has been a distraction since he first showed up in 1998. He's never taken shots at teammates, never threatened to hold out (until now), has shown up for every game, and even cried last January after losing the AFCC game (again) to the Patriots.

In a story in today's Post-Gazette Ward lays out his case:
"Last year, you told me to wait, which is understandable; I had two years left on my deal and I went about it. I reported to everything you wanted me to do; I've done everything you asked me to do.


"They haven't even talked to my agent but once, as of Monday," Ward said. "They made an initial offer, my agent countered it. And that was it, there was no more negotiating after that."
This is one of those situations where you can only hope and pray the Steelers haven't already decided that Ward is over-the-hill (they rightly made that judgment about Jason Gildon; they were a little off on Chad Brown, however) and unless he's willing to settle for something less than Marvin Harrison-type money, they're willing to leaving him hanging in the lurch. Given that the Rooney's have promised to "make Ward a priority this off-season" I don't think that's the case. Of course, the off-season will expire in about 36 hours, and Ward admits that his agent has only spoken once with the Steelers, which makes this all the more curious.

So what happens if Pittsburgh drags their feet and don't re-sign Ward? Well, for starters, you're looking at a team that goes from having one of the best receivers in the league to a team that features a rookie tight end, and two wideouts in Antwaan Randle El and Cedrick Wilson who star in the community theatre production of "Gary Coleman and Emmanuel Lewis: Where are they Now?" during the off-season (and for the unenlightened, Randle El does indeed play Gary Coleman's character). Seriously, Randle El has never started a 16-game season and there are some concerns if he's durable enough to take the pounding. Wilson was the leading receiver in San Francisco last season, but that team won a whopping two games. Behind them is Lee Mays, perennial fourth option, and rookie Fred Gibson. And if Duce Staley goes down (which, like clockwork, will take place sometime around week 8), and Max Starks struggles with right tackle, Pittsburgh will be familiarizing themselves with the 2003 season all over again.

I know there are a lot of "ifs" in the scenario above, but it's also not totally inconceivable that something like that happens. I have no idea what the Steelers' intentions are with Ward, nor do I know why they're waiting until the 11th hour to try and work out a deal. I do know however, that Pittsburgh fans are firmly behind Ward in this instance and if a deal isn't worked out, you can expect the organization to hire a few more PR guys to deal with the backlash. Look, Pittsburgh is a blue collar town that respects guys who work hard, and don't make waves. So the longer the Ward contraction situation festers, the worse it is for the organization.

If you're the Steelers, you can sign Ward to a 20-year, billion dollar contract, but only give him a $20 million signing bonus that pays the veteran minimum in the way of salary. That way, in five or six (or seven or eight) years when Ward is ready to call it quits, the Steelers don't have any dead money via the salary cap, while keeping arguably the most popular player in team history happy and in Pittsburgh. Alternatively, Pittsburgh can try there luck with Randle El and mini-Plax (Wilson, since he's wearing #80).