Monday, February 27, 2012

Hines Ward: Should He Stay or Should He Go?

The news surrounding Hines Ward's future with the Steelers has been unreliable and has pretty much changed by the day, but the one thing that's well established is that he's not staying on the team at a price tag of $4 million.  He's said he's willing to re-structure his contract and make less and the Steelers have said that they'd love to have him back if the price is right.

My only problem with the situation is this: If they're both thinking the same thing, why hasn't this gotten done yet?  My guess is that it's because Ward's idea of re-structuring is more like $2 million and the Steelers idea of the "right price" is the veteran minimum.  That means they've been staring at each other since February 11th when news broke that the Steelers were going to cut Ward, and both of them are waiting for the other to blink.  Ward has a clause in his contract that the Steelers need to tell him whether or not he's going to be on the team by Thursday, March 1st, not March 13th when free agency begins.  That means that someone had better blink soon.  Since the Steelers are still over the cap, I'm thinking that Hines will need to blink first.  Otherwise, he's gone.

So, assuming that Ward is willing to take the veteran minimum ($925,000 in his case), we end up with another question: Is he worth retaining, even at that price?

If the Steelers manage to retain Mike Wallace -- which is starting to look more and more likely -- and also re-sign Jerricho Cotchery, that puts Ward fifth on the depth chart behind Wallace, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, and Cotchery.  Future Hall of Famer or not, $925,000 is a lot of money to pay a fifth wide receiver that (presumably) won't help out on special teams.

There's the argument that Ward will be able to contribute in other ways, such as tutoring and developing all the young receiving talent currently ahead of him on the depth chart.  I think there's something to that, since I firmly believe that Terrance Mathis helped Antwan Randle-El considerably in his rookie year, but that was a different situation.  Mathis was a specialist: He was a smaller guy that played slot receiver and returned kicks, just like El.  He had a unique perspective and set of experiences that helped make El into the player he became.

Ward doesn't have much in common with the other receivers on the roster.  Plus which, aside from teaching guys how to block, I haven't heard much about Hines coaching and tutoring young guys.  There's nothing wrong with the fact that he doesn't do it, but Jerome Bettis added value in his later years by giving advice to Willie Parker, helping him become the back he was.  Bettis was able to do that even though he and Parker had vastly different builds and running styles.  I don't think Ward adds that extra value.  Plus which, as Mike Prisuta correctly pointed out on DVE, there are guys that already get paid to teach players.  They're called coaches.

Once the Steelers got Hines to 1,000 receptions, he completely disappeared.  I don't remember seeing him on the field after that.  If he's not going to be an effective surrogate coach, he's not going to be involved on offense, and he's not going to contribute on special teams, then he's not worth $925, to say nothing of $925,000.  That sucks to say, but it's true.  From a business/team perspective, it doesn't make sense to retain Ward, even at the veteran minimum.  They're better off grabbing a cheaper rookie in the late rounds or as an undrafted free agent for the fifth spot and developing that guy from there.

But... here's the thing.  It's weird to think of Hines playing for another team.  It's weird that Franco Harris closed out his career with the Seahawks.  As a fan, I don't want this to get weird.

Here's the other thing: It's highly unlikely that the Steelers will sign Wallace and Cotchery by Thursday.  If they don't sign either of those guys, then Hines becomes a bargain at 925K as the third receiver.  I don't think that will happen, but I can't guarantee that it won't.  Signing Ward gives them insurance -- and at a pretty good rate -- if they don't sign Wallace or Cotchery.  If they do sign both of those guys, then Cotchery can help out on special teams and they have insurance in case anyone gets hurt.  Wallace had a calf issue last season, Cotchery had hamstring problems, and Sanders wasn't available until about mid season.

Steelers N At Official Stance:
Hines should stay.

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