From Steelers president Art Rooney II: “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.”
The Steelers saved almost $4 million on their 2012 cap and have young, capable receivers in Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmaunel Sanders who overtook Ward, 36, on the receiving depth chart during the 2011 season.
We may be able to spin this same record in coming weeks with Packers receiver Donald Driver.
Driver, who is 37 years old and holds several Packers receiving records, has one year left on the contract he signed in 2010 worth almost $5 million. While Driver has expressed an interest in re-structuring that contract to continue playing in Green Bay, Ward offered the same service to the Steelers to stay in Pittsburgh. He was still released. Money is more of an issue for the Steelers in this offseason than the Packers, but the dollars don’t tell the whole story.
The meat of the pages here is that the Packers have younger players who need a bigger platform in 2012.
As is the case with the Steelers, who saw Antonio Brown emerge as a very capable No. 2 receiver in 2011, the Packers have two or three players—Randall Cobb, Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel—who need more opportunities and, in the case of Gurley and Borel, a spot on the Packers roster. Giving Driver an honorable release is the only way the Packers can accomplish that.
People aren’t going to like it, and there’s going to be a morbid feeling surrounding the release—just like there is right now in Pittsburgh. But don’t get this game of football twisted: It’s a business first and foremost, and releasing Driver is the better football move.
They’ll save some money on the cap, but more importantly, Cobb, Gurley and Borel will get a real opportunity to breakout next season. If Driver is kept as even the No. 5 receiver, Cobb will lose snaps he probably deserves and Gurley and Borel will likely be taking their talents elsewhere. Borel would have a better chance at sticking on the practice squad for another year, but Gurley would be crazy to turn down another offer to be a 53-man roster.
Moral of the story: The NFL is a business, not some sentimental, feel-good joy ride where players that have served their time admirably get an extra year or two to toil around on a roster. Fans want it to be that way, and maybe it’s a hard reality. But Ward’s release in Pittsburgh proves it just doesn’t work that way. At the end of the day, I think Packers GM Ted Thompson has that same vision as Steelers GM Kevin Colbert.
Don’t be surprised if Driver joins Ward on the open market in the next couple of weeks.——————
Zach Kruse is a 23-year-old sports journalist with a passion for the Green Bay Packers. He currently lives in Wisconsin and is working on his journalism degree, while also covering prep sports for The Dunn Co. News.
You can read more of Zach's Packers articles on AllGreenBayPackers.com.Follow @zachkruse2