Hines Ward Is Done In Pittsburgh, And That Seems Strange

Hines Ward built his entire NFL career in Pittsburgh, which ended this afternoon with his official release, by overcoming perceived slights. Drafted out of Georgia in the third round in 1998, he spent most of his rookie season on special teams, only to watch as the franchise picked Troy Edwards in the first round the following year. Ward would start 14 games in '99, catching 61 passes, but the team selected another wideout with its top pick, taking Plaxico Burress eighth overall in 2000. Edwards would be gone after the 2001 season, and Burress would depart four years after that. Too small and too slow, Ward remained, and together he and the Steelers flourished.

Ward eventually attained just about all there was for him to achieve as a Steeler: two Super Bowl rings, Super Bowl XL MVP, team records in just about every receiving category. He became the face of the franchise's second sustained run of championship success, even as his peers around the league had a view of him that was altogether different. Ward will turn 36 next week, and the perception that comes with age is the cruelest he's faced. Ultimately, there was nothing he could do about it—not when the Steelers are spending this offseason nickel-and-diming nearly $30 million off their cap number, not with Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown entering their primes. Ward once briefly held out for a contract he felt he was worth, and he received it. His most recent deal, signed three years ago, was supposed to allow him to retire as a Steeler, to prevent another sad sight like Franco Harris's forgettable attempt to hang on with the Seahawks. That option is still Hines Ward's. He may not have many more.