Steelers make tough but right call on Ward

The Steelers announced they plan on releasing wide receiver Hines Ward, a situation that was never going to end happily.

Ward was going to either get cut or disappear on the Steelers' bench. The only way there is a perfect ending is when the player decides to retire, and that rarely happens.

"This isn't how I wanted this chapter of my career to end," Ward said in a statement released by his manager. "I did everything in my power to remain a Steeler and finish what I started here 14 years ago."

This is the painful side of sports. Jerry Rice went to the Oakland Raiders and Seattle Seahawks. Tim Brown finished with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Art Monk bounced from the New York Jets to the Philadelphia Eagles. And now, Ward likely will complete his career in a uniform that doesn't have the colors black and gold.

It will go down as one of the toughest decisions the Steelers have ever had to make. But it's the right call.

Don't blame the Steelers for making a logical business move. The Steelers can't pay a fourth-string wide receiver $4 million even if they had the salary-cap room.

The brutal reality is the Steelers no longer needed Ward, who turns 36 in nine days. The Steelers' top three wide receivers -- Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders -- each averaged more than 13 yards per catch. Ward, who ranked fourth on the team with 46 receptions, averaged 8.3.

In his statement, Ward thanked team officials and his fans. "I gave my heart and soul for you every down and I will always bleed black and gold," he said.

But Ward doesn't appear ready to retire as a Steeler.

"I do feel that I still have more football left in me and I am looking forward to playing in the NFL, again, this upcoming season," he said.

There is no guarantee Ward will play in 2012. The only chance Ward has to continue playing is if a team values his leadership and wants a veteran to be its No. 3 receiver.

The Steelers will now turn their attention toward re-signing Jerricho Cotchery (15 catches and two touchdowns in the final eight games) or another free-agent wide receiver.