The decision was made because Ward's numbers were down last season (he only had 381 receiving yards in 2011).
As the Steelers move on they will hope that their veteran-laden roster will make up for the sentiment that comes with losing Ward. The receiving corps will still produce next season as the Steelers have faith in their group of young wideouts.
Ward was a tough slot receiver and an exceptional blocker. The Steelers can use some of their later draft picks to get someone to fill that role or they can replace Ward with a completely different kind of receiver.
There are plenty of intriguing receivers in this year's draft. Here are the ones capable of replacing Ward.
Before tearing his ACL against Texas A&M on Nov. 5, Broyles was having a monster season with 83 catches for 1,157 yards and 10 touchdowns. He was consistently productive all throughout his career at Oklahoma.
Broyles' productivity as a slot receiver makes him a great fit to fill the role Ward leaves. The Steelers can probably grab him in a later round.
The only problem is that Broyles has a game much like Steelers receiver Antonio Brown. This may lead the Steelers to look at a different category of wide receivers.
Tommy Streeter is the definition of raw talent. He decided to forgo his senior year at Miami after he recorded 46 receptions last season (he only had six total receptions in his first two years).
The 6'5 215-pound Streeter will need to be seasoned at the professional level, but the Steelers have the ability to do so. He makes a great red-zone threat with his unique size and athletic ability.
Streeter could be developed into a phenomenal player, and would add a unique piece that the Steelers don't already have.
Like Streeter, LSU's Rueben Randle has great size at 6'4" 207 pounds. Randle is a great run-blocker which the Steelers should be looking for to replace Ward.
Randle would give the Steelers a good threat in short-yardage situations. He is a threat to make a play by catching the ball or by making a big block along the goal line.
Marvin McNutt was able to catch 82 balls for 1,315 yards and 12 touchdowns last season in an Iowa offense that leans on the running game.
He has been a contributor in the passing game since his sophomore season, and has proven his consistency.
Having McNutt on the field with the receivers Pittsburgh already has would be a great addition. McNutt would be able to fill the roles of both Ward and Jerricho Cotchery.
Toon also produced in a run-first offense as he had 64 catches for 926 yards and 10 touchdowns in his best season at Wisconsin.
Toon is the best fit guy in this draft to become the new and improved Hines Ward. He is a great blocker and will catch the tough balls thrown over the middle.
The Steelers could draft Toon in the second or third round, getting a steal that pays them back for years.