By Christina Rivers
Ultimately, it may be the salary cap, salary restructuring or just simply an assessment that the team needs to move on that decides Hines Ward\'s fate and whether he will remain with the Pittsburgh Steelers and retire as a member of the team. A lot of analysis around the league and media circles has gone into how, even if he were to remain with the team, he\'d be relegated to the position of a receiver on the special teams. The fact that Steelers fans love the play and service Ward has given to the Steelers has never been in doubt. The discussion, however, has divided fans into two very distinct groups; those who are begging the organization to keep him, and those who are saying \'good job, but it\'s time to go\'.
On Tuesday, Steelers Depot released an article that reacted to speculation by NFL.com reporter Jason Canfora. Canfora stands by his statements that Ward will not return to the Steelers roster unless the team first cuts him and then hires him back at the veteran minimum in pay. Comments ranged from, "Can’t play forever. Time to go." to "Hines, love ya, but in reality, keeping you would not be the best move for the Steelers. This frees up room to keep Cotchery, a similar mold with more speed…assuming he’s willing to stay." This group of Steelers fans seems to think that Ward\'s time to hang up his cleats in now.
Then there are die-hard Hines Ward fans who have sent a petition to the Steelers organization and the Rooneys via change.org. The petition letter reads:
It is very important to any member of the Steeler Nation that Hines Ward stay a part of the "family". He is a beloved person to all fans, the city of Pittsburgh and the Steelers. We have to let our voices be heard, so Hines Ward\'s home will be with the Steelers until he retires!
As of Feb. 15, the petition had received 2344 signatures, according to the site. Those who signed the petition feel that Ward is an asset the Steelers can\'t afford to lose.
The results of the petition, so far, don\'t live up to the words in the letter - that it is "very important to any member of the Steeler Nation" that Ward remain with the team, especially considering the enormity of the fan-base that the Steelers have.
The debate hasn\'t been heated, but has definitely caused mixed reactions among fans. There are valid arguments on both sides as to whether or not the Steelers organization should put Ward back on the roster in 2012 - even if it is just for one more season.
The question is: What will one more season do for Ward or the Steelers?
I am definitely a Hines Ward fan. He has out-performed every expectation I have ever had for him. He\'s personable, he\'s a champion and he has an overall attitude that makes me like him as a person, not just a player. Although I am not officially a part of the organization, I can see why the Steelers would be conflicted by any decisions regarding Ward\'s future. He\'s made his mark and most-definitely will be a future Hall-of-Fame player. Like many fans, I\'d love to see him around for another season. However, I am not sure that a single season will make any deeper of an impact on his life or on the overall strength of the Steelers\' team.
I\'ve never felt comfortable with open speculation about how the Steelers should operate their organization. They\'ve been very successful at finding players to fill necessary holes or deepen depth charts with effective hiring methods. I will disagree with one point that has been made, and it is that Jerricho Cotchery is in a better position to stay than Ward. Cotchery and Ward are similarly-styled players. Cotchery doesn\'t really have a shelf-life much different than Wards either. It may make sense to release both of them and hire a younger receiver.
While the fans debate each other over the necessity of Ward remaining with the team, the air they use to express their opinions may be wasted. Even if Ward isn\'t signed again for 2012, fans should remember that the Steelers want to win. They should also realize that at some point a player\'s career truly is over. Whether this is the case or not, fans will most likely keep up the debate until the official word is given.