The Pittsburgh Steelers don't plan on keeping longtime wide receiver Hines Ward, sources told the NFL Network. If the report is correct -- and the signs have pointed toward this for months -- it will be a decision based as much on production as money.
Ward, who turns 36 next month, lost his starting job for next season and would return as the No. 4 or No. 5 wide receiver on the Steelers.
Pittsburgh is set on going with younger and faster receivers. The Steelers' top three wide receivers -- Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders -- all averaged more than 13 yards per catch. Ward, who ranked fourth on the team with 46 receptions, averaged 8.3 yards per catch.
Keeping Ward around as a reserve wide receiver makes little sense for the Steelers or Ward. The fourth and fifth wide receivers on a team have to make contributions on special teams, which isn't Ward's specialty. That means Ward would be inactive for a majority of the games next season if Pittsburgh kept him.
The Steelers, who are about $10 million over the cap, also would get to trim Ward's $4 million salary for the 2012 season. There had been some hope that Ward could return next season because he was open to taking a pay cut and the Steelers parted ways with offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who had been looking to reduce Ward's role the past couple of seasons. In the end, Ward just doesn't fit into the Steelers' downfield passing game.
What does the future hold for Ward and the Steelers? The only chance Ward has to continue playing is if a team values his leadership and wants a veteran to be its No. 3 receiver. And if Ward is no longer in their plans, the Steelers will turn their attention toward re-signing Jerricho Cotchery (15 catches and two touchdowns in the final eight games) or another free-agent wide receiver.