The Pittsburgh Steelers 2011 season came to an abrupt end on the first play of overtime Sunday against the Denver Broncos as quarterback Tim Tebow hit wide receiver Demaryius Thomas for a 80-yard touchdown pass and the Broncos defeated Steelers 29-23 in the AFC wild-card playoff game. Not only was it the end of the Steelers 2011 season, it could be the final game for veteran wide receiver Hines Ward as well.
Ward was asked about his thoughts on next season after the game and he replied, "No, I\'m not even thinking about that. My heart is towards my teammates and towards this game. There are a lot of guys in this locker room battling injuries. To end it like that in overtime, to go 12-4 and have it come down to an overtime loss the way it did is sad. This will stick with (us) a lot as one of the worst games we ever lost. I thought last year losing the Super Bowl, but this is fresh on our minds and the way we lost is disappointing." Ward was pushed further about his future in the NFL and replied, "I’m not even thinking about that."
Not a shocking answer by Ward, especially considering how stunned he must have still been, but it is obvious that if Ward wants to return for his 15th season it will be in a greatly reduced roll and for much less than the $4.61 million he is scheduled to count against the cap in 2012. Ward saw his snap count drop following the week 7 win against the Arizona Cardinals. He was forced to miss the week 8 game against the New England Patriots with an ankle injury and saw just under 500 offensive snaps in the regular season. To put that in perspective, Ward played just under 990 snaps in 2010 and just under 940 in 2009.
Ward is currently signed through the 2013 season and he said prior to the year that he thought he could play two more years or until his wheels fell off. He reached 12,000 career yards receiving in the Steelers week 12 win against the Cincinnati Bengals and caught his 1,000 career reception in the season finale against the Cleveland Browns. He has his milestones now and although another Super Bowl championship would be nice to have on his Canton resume, it is not a necessity.
Ward has several months before he will need to make a decision, but I wonder if the Steelers might just try to prod him to make it sooner than later. Ward has a career ahead of him as a broadcaster and he has a legacy in both the NFL and with the Steelers that will never be forgotten. He might not be ready to think about it Sunday, but he will have to think about it soon.