It's rare for one guy to end his career with the team that drafted him, but Hines Ward has a chance to do that now.
The Pittsburgh Steelers announced Wednesday on the team website that they would be releasing Ward, who leads the Steelers in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns, after 14 seasons as one of Steeler Nation's most popular players.
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, Steelers President Art Rooney II told Steelers.com. 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.
Ward has won two Super Bowls with the Steelers, including Super Bowl XL in 2006 where he recorded five catches for 123 yards and a touchdown. (Reuters/Brian Snyder)
He continued: 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, who will be 36 years old next week, has 1,000 career catches (eighth all time), 12,083 receiving yards (18th) and 85 touchdown receptions (13th). He was also named to four Pro Bowls and won the 2006 Super Bowl XL MVP.
But should that resume prompt retirement?
Ward himself doesn't think so-at least not yet. He responded to Rooney's statement saying that he still wants to play next season.
This isn't how I wanted this chapter of my career to end, he said. I did everything in my power to remain a Steeler and finish what I started here 14 years ago. I want to thank the organization, my teammates and coaches and everyone who made my run as a Steeler the best years of my life.
Ward continued: To Mr. Rooney, thank you for allowing me to play for one of the greatest organizations in the world. To my fans and in particular, Steeler Nation, thank you for your support and all the great memories. I gave my heart and soul for you every down and I will always bleed black and gold. I do feel that I still have more football left in me and I am looking forward to playing in the NFL, again, this upcoming season.
At 35 years old, Ward is most likely at the tail end of his career, and the Steelers most likely see that. And, as a result, their move to release Ward seems like their way of clearing cap space to lock other key, but younger pieces.
At the same time, Ward has probably been one of the most impactful wide receivers without the ball in hands as he was with it. That means plenty of teams that can benefit from that as well as his veteran leadership that can positively influence younger players.
However, after playing so many seasons with one club, especially one as prestigious and renowned as the Steelers, Ward's Hall of Fame chances may spike despite his statistics if he does decide to hang it up.
His on-field numbers will be argued when his ballot is put in, but, if he were to walk away today, the number 14 could be as significant as any other.
Here are four other players who have retired after playing their entire careers with one team and whose numbers are subject to Hall of Fame debate:
Tiki Barber - RB, New York Giants
Barber retired after 10 seasons with the Giants from 1997-2006. He carried the ball 2,217 for 10,449 yards and 55 touchdowns and also had 586 receptions for 5,183 yards and 12 touchdowns. The three-time Pro Bowler is also the Giants all-time leader in the aforementioned three rushing categories. Barber became a first-time eligible player for the 2012 Hall of Fame class back in September, but didn't end making the cut for enshrinement.
Marvin Harrison - WR, Indianapolis Colts
Harrison retired after 13 seasons with the Colts from 1996-2008, recording 1,102 receptions for 14,580 yards and 128 touchdowns, all of which are Colts records. In 2002, the eight-time Pro Bowler broke Herman Moore's single season receptions record by 20 receptions, finishing with 143.
Walter Jones - OL, Seattle Seahawks
Jones retired after 13 seasons with the Seahawks from 1997-2009. The nine-time Pro Bowl selection played and started in 180 games, and his number #71 was retired by the team in December 2010.
Derrick Brooks - LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Brooks retired after 14 seasons with the Buccaneers from 1995-2008, tallying 1,715 tackles, 13.5 sacks and 25 interceptions, six of which were returned for touchdowns. He made 11 Pro Bowls and won Defensive Player of the Year in 2002. He is Tampa Bay's all-time leading tackler and is fifth all-time in picks.