It's always hard for teams and their fans to say goodbye to a player whose spent his entire career with the team, but today the Pittsburgh Steelers are doing just that to WR Hines Ward.
ESPN reports that Ward, who is the team's record holder in almost every receiving category, will be released sometime in the next two weeks. Ward's $4 million hit to the cap, his age (he's 36 next week), and his decreased production were the factors that led to his release instead of negotiating a pay cut.
Steelers owner Art Rooney II made a statement on the team's official website:
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. Hines has been an integral part of our success since we drafted him in 1998 and we will forever be grateful for what he has helped us achieve. He has meant so much to this organization, both on and off the field, and we appreciate his efforts over the past 14 years. Hines’ accomplishments are numerous, and he will always be thought of as one of the all-time great Steelers. We wish him nothing but the best.
Ward has played his entire career with Pittsburgh, racking up exactly 1,000 receptions, over 12,000 yards and 85 touchdowns since being drafted in the third round out of Georgia in 1998. He's a four time Pro Bowler and was the Super Bowl XL MVP. Ward made a reputation for himself as one of the most tenacious blocking wide receivers in the game. Ward said in an official statement that "this isn't how I wanted this chapter of my career to end. I did everything in my power to remain a Steeler and finish what I started here 14 years ago."
Ward also said that he plans on returning for his 15th season.