After 14 years in the black-and-gold, wide receiver Hines Ward was unceremoniously released by the Pittsburgh Steelers on Wednesday. The Steelers who are probably one of the most loyal organizations to its players was faced with an ever tightening salary-cap situation forcing them to let go of their all-time receptions leader.
Ward epitomized the hard-nosed play that is associated with the Steelers and has been regarded around the league as one of the best run-blocking wide receivers to ever play the game. He was fearless catching passes across the middle and only missed seven regular season games during his 14-year career.
Despite his release, Ward has expressed his desire to continue playing and there is no better place for him to finish out his career than Atlanta. Ward grew up in the Atlanta area and was a star quarterback for Forest Park High School in Forest Park, GA before attending college at the University of Georgia.
The Atlanta Falcons aren’t necessarily hurting at the wide receiver position but they could stand to benefit from his toughness and championship experience as a two-time World Champion with the Steelers. Ward helped many of the young receivers that came through the Steelers organization to develop and could be a big help to impressionable young wide receivers like Julio Jones and Harry Douglas.
Ward also has another reputation as one of the dirtiest players in the league which may also benefit the Falcons. The Falcons could stand to play with more of an edge as opposed to laying down like they did versus the New York Giants in last year’s Wild Card playoff loss.
Sadly, the Falcons may not have much salary-cap room themselves with so many players becoming free agents this offseason. Atlanta will be looking to resign many of their own players and also look for help at the positions where they struggled last year like their offensive line.
But Ward may not be motivated to play in Atlanta. While it is his home, he may have a desire to play for another team in the AFC North. That way he can play against the Steelers twice a year to exact revenge for his poorly-handled release.
That idea is not likely though as the Cincinnati Bengals aren’t looking to experiment with anymore “older” receivers (remember the T.O. experiment?), the Cleveland Browns are horrible, and I don’t think that Ward could ever imagine himself wearing a Baltimore Ravens uniform.
But Ward signing with Atlanta would be a mutually beneficial situation for both him and the Falcons. Ward would be joining a winner and the Falcons would be bringing in a player that can infect their offense with his toughness and grit.
Besides that, the fans would enjoy having one of their favorite sons donning a Falcons’ uniform and hopefully Ward would get the chance to retire in the red-and-black. Hey, there’s no place like home right?
Roosevelt Hall is an NFL Blogger for The Sport Mentalist and also writes for both The Penalty Flag and Outside The Redzone. He can be contacted at RHall_TPFB@Yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @sportmentalist and add him on Facebook Roosevelt Hall Thesportmentalist.