Monday, August 01, 2005

Be Careful What You Ask For

And yes, I'm talking to you Kevin Colbert. Here's what Pittsburgh's director of football operations had to say when Hines Ward, as promised, didn't show up for the first day of training camp Sunday, because the Steelers have yet to offer him a new contract:
"We understand Hines Ward is a special player and always has been ... but, sometimes, there's going to be a disagreement...The policy has always been that, if a player is under contact, he has to be in camp for any negotiations to go forward. Without the player here, there won't be any exchange."
This is by far the dumbest thing I've heard that wasn't from the lips of some ESPN bobblehead (and much like Mark Madden describing Stan Savran, I consider myself a shill for the Rooneys and the Steelers). Why the hell does Hines need to be in camp to rework his deal? If I'm not mistaken, didn't the Steelers make it known early this offseason that keeping Ward was the team's top priority? And isn't that also why they let Plaxico sign with the Giants -- because they couldn't afford both of them?

Last week Hines mentioned that since the end of the season in late January, Pittsburgh has made exactly one contract offer to Ward. One. And that was within the last two weeks. Now that training camp has officially started, it's suddenly an urgent matter from management's perspective. Interesting. Here's an idea, why not try to keep the most productive player in recent history (who also happens to be the hardest working, not to mention arguably one of the all-time most popular Steelers ever) happy while simultaneously avoiding a PR misstep that would make goofy presidential candidate Michael Dukakis sitting in a tank seem innocuous. Ward has made it clear that he doesn't want to be the highest paid reciever in the game, and that he's willing to make some concessions if Pittsburgh will make him a reasonable offer. Apparently, the Steelers would prefer to strong-arm Ward into camp and then go from there. On Pittsburgh Sports Tonight Ward made the obvious point that if he happens to get injured in camp, what incentive would Pittsburgh have for signing him to a lucrative deal -- especially after giving something less than a half-assed effort to re-sign him this offseason, when they promised to do as much.

This is stupid on so many levels, and the blame, right or wrong, will be placed squarely on the Steelers management. Pat Kirwan writes for NFL. com about the Ward situation and he thinks the Steelers have the upper hand because Hines is 29 years old and really doesn't have much leverage. If he holds out for the year, he'll be a 30-year old WR with only a few good seasons left. And not only that, he doesn't instill fear in opposing defensive coordinators because he's not a game-changer (the fact that in the AFCC Belichick admitted that he game-planned to stop Ward, not Burress, wasn't mentioned here, but it's a fact). If this were any other town and any other player, Kirwan would be right. But it's Hines Ward, and it's Pittsburgh. The fans love Ward, and I'm guessing he'll have their support. The Steelers know this too, so for Colbert to come out and say something so ridiculous is a bit baffling. And if you're management, this certainly doesn't help either:
Asked if Ward deserves a new contract, running back Jerome Bettis said, "What do you think? He's like the 40th paid wide receiver in the league."
Still, this may all work itself out, and even if there are some hard feelings, plenty of teams have gone deep into the playoffs despite some early (pre)season adversity. Of course this team has a second-year QB, and two receivers who if you stacked them one on top of the other still wouldn't be able to get on most of the rides at Kings Dominion. Lucky for management, not all of the Steelers' players will miss Ward during his holdout:
Several teammates made impassioned pleas for the team to re-sign Ward, with linebacker Joey Porter saying the Steelers "can't win without him." And Colbert himself seemed uncomfortable talking about a missing player he often has cited for his unselfishness and team-first attitude.


All-Pro linebacker James Farrior said the Steelers' camp won't be the same without Ward's never-take-a-down-off attitude, attention to detail and production. Ward has surpassed the team's former single-season record of 85 receptions three times, including a team-record 112-catch season in 2002.

"The way he plays and the way he approaches the game, everybody kind of follows what he does," Farrior said. "He's a great player and does all the little things and a lot of the young guys look up to him to get their motivation and see how he does things, because he's always doing it right."
Oh wait, yes they will.