Hines Ward: Now's the Time for Pittsburgh Steelers Legend to Retire

Tim DanielsFeatured ColumnistJanuary 9, 2012

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 8:  Wide receiver Hines Ward #86 of the Pittsburgh Steelers walk on the field before taking on the Denver Broncos in the 2012 AFC Wild Card Playoff game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 8, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

It was clear Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward was no longer a major part of the team's offensive plans in yesterday's playoff loss to the Denver Broncos. So it's no surprise that the wideout's teammates are thinking he may retire, according to Mike Freeman of CBS Sports.

Did Hines Ward play his last game? It appears he might have. A Steelers player texted to me the expectations around the team was that Ward would soon announce his retirement. That doesn't mean it's set he will. That means some Steelers players believe it, which means it's likely to happen.

There are few players in the NFL with a competitive fire that burns hotter than Ward's. Because of that, it had to eat him up inside to be standing on the sidelines for some of the game's most important plays. It should have also sent a message to him about his deteriorating ability, though.

Yet according to WPXI Channel 11 Sports Report Rich Walsh, "Ward doesn’t want to retire and could possibly be back for another season."

Still, Ward's no longer the dominant possession receiver he was during his prime. All of the punishment he took for the betterment of the Steelers organization has taken a toll on his body and caused him to slip down the depth chart behind names like Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery.

It wasn't something that just popped up over the weekend, either. It's an issue that's been building throughout the season. He caught just 46 passes, the lowest since his rookie season, and his per-catch average was by far the worst of his career.

He was never the fastest receiver in the league by any means, but he did have a second gear which helped him avoid defenders. He just doesn't have that extra burst anymore.

Ward has always been a team-first guy, which has become increasingly rare in this day of age. Last night's game should have been enough evidence for him to understand that he's no longer helping the team reach its ultimate goal. Therefore, it's time to step aside.

The Steelers are too classy of an organization to push him out the door, so if he wanted to give it another go next season he would likely have a spot. That said, the front office would probably like the $4 million in cap space he's currently occupying to upgrade other areas.

Ward has built up quite the legacy during his 14-year career and nobody wants to see him diminish any of those accomplishments by hanging around too long. Even the toughest guys in the NFL eventually have to know when they've maxed out their bodies.

Hopefully he recognizes that and can step away before his flaws become even more obvious to the casual fan. He has nothing left to prove, anyway.