Ward to report to camp; new deal expected

PITTSBURGH -- Pro Bowl wide receiver Hines Ward ended
his 15-day contract holdout and reported to the Pittsburgh
Steelers on Monday.

ESPN's Chris Mortensen reports that the team will reciprocate by resuming negotiations on a new contract in hopes that a deal can be struck by the end of the week

Ward arrived at Heinz Field about two hours before the Steelers'
exhibition against the Philadelphia Eagles and was quickly escorted
into the stadium by a team official to watch the game.

Steelers Coach Bill Cowher talked at
length with the four-time Pro Bowl receiver on Sunday night and
convinced him of his importance to a team that went 15-1 last

"For me, I needed to hear that from my head coach, this support
-- that's all a player can ask for. If your coach doesn't have
confidence in you as a ballplayer, maybe you need to part ways,"
Ward said before the game. "It's been a long
time since we had a conversation like that. ... That's why I'm
here, showing good faith, because I want to retire a Steeler."

Ward, poised to become the leading receiver in Steelers' history
this season, became the team's first major holdout in 12 years on
July 31 -- keeping his promise not to report to training camp
without a contract extension that would make him one of the NFL's
top-paid wide receivers.

But the Steelers also kept their promise of not negotiating with
a player under contract who is not in camp. Ward hopes his arrival
will lead to a deal being reached, but realizes an injury or a poor
season could significantly reduce his value not just to the
Steelers but as a free agent after this season.

Ward has one year remaining on a contract worth $1.66 million
this season, but wants guaranteed money that puts him in the upper
echelon of NFL receivers -- even though he said it's unrealistic to expect
Marvin Harrison, Randy Moss or Terrell Owens money.

The 29-year-old Ward disliked being mentioned almost daily with
Owens, who wants more money a year after signing a $49 million
contract with the Eagles. Ward said, "I hate seeing me put in this
situation. It's totally different."

"This isn't about Marvin Harrison money -- I'm here because I
want to retire as a Steeler,'' said Ward, who owns three of the
four most productive seasons by a receiver in team history. "I
don't even think I'd look right in another uniform. ... It's
unfortunate it came to a holdout, because I wouldn't miss this
season for the world."

Since Ward failed to report, several teammates made impassioned
pleas for the team to re-sign Ward, with linebacker Joey Porter
saying the Steelers "can't win without him." And running back
Jerome Bettis said teammates were watching how the Steelers handled
the Ward contract talks after the team asked several players in
recent seasons -- including Bettis himself -- to take pay cuts to
stay with the team.

"The guys have been very supportive of me," Ward said.

Ward's absence threatened to create a major distraction for a
team that went 15-1 and played in the AFC championship game last
season, and left quarterback Ben Roethlisberger without either
starting wide receiver from his unbeaten rookie regular season.
Plaxico Burress signed with the Giants during the offseason.

The Steelers were so thin on receivers last week in camp with
Ward gone and Antwaan Randle El hurt that fourth-round draft pick
Fred Gibson, an unpolished rookie from Georgia, spent two days with
the first unit.

Ward, one of the NFL's top-blocking receivers, and Bettis have
personified the Steelers' offense for years. Ward is within 33
catches of breaking Hall of Famer John Stallworth's team record of
537 receptions.

"We've got a great opportunity to make another run at it,"
Ward said. "Ben is the future of the organization, and I want to
be here."

"Do I regret it?" Ward said of his holdout. "No, I want to be
a part of this organization. ... I told my agent, Eugene [Parker],
'I want to retire a Steeler, so you do what it takes to make it

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.