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Ward goes on offensive in bid to remain a Steeler

Hines Ward took a proactive approach Saturday in his bid to return to the Steelers.

He also put the onus on the Steelers in responding to an NFL Network report saying the team won't bring him back next season.

"I don't normally like to respond to rumors, but as I've said all along, I want to finish my career with the Pittsburgh Steelers," Ward wrote on his Facebook page yesterday. "And as I've already told the organization, I am willing to work with them to restructure my contract to make sure this happens."

Ward's representatives have not heard from the Steelers since the report surfaced late Friday, but the team already has restructured the contracts of three high-profile players this offseason to save money against the salary cap. Ward, who turns 36 next month, has two years remaining on a contract that will pay him $4 million per season.

The Steelers, through a spokesman, declined to comment on Ward's status.

The report caught Ward, the team's all-time leading receiver, off guard, though the 14-year veteran has no intention of retiring if the Steelers release him.

It doesn't appear that the organization has made a final decision. Ward's future with the Steelers has been in question since the team's playoff loss in Denver last month.

Ward's playing time and production dropped last season -- his 46 catches and 381 receiving yards were his lowest since his rookie year -- and he lost his starting job to Antonio Brown in mid-November.

The Steelers also have to shed a significant amount of salary; they entered the offseason about $25 million over the salary cap.

The team trimmed a little more than $14 million off that total last week by restructuring the contracts of cornerback Ike Taylor and linebackers LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons.

They also saved about $3.5 million in cap space when they released cornerback Bryant McFadden and receiver Arnaz Battle last week.

The Steelers' offseason has been marked by change, but if they cut ties with Ward, it will register as a seismic shift, given his place in the franchise's history.

His popularity is such that, within an hour of posting his statement on Facebook, he had received more than 2,000 responses. By early evening, he had almost twice as many responses and more than 28,000 likes.

Ward, the MVP of Super Bowl XL, holds almost every major Steelers receiving record and is one of only eight players in NFL history with 1,000 career catches.

He is second only to Franco Harris in franchise history with 86 touchdowns.

"He's one of the all-time Steelers," team president Art Rooney II said last month. "Hopefully he's a Hall of Famer. You want it to end the right way whenever it ends, but it's a two-party decision."

The Steelers appear set at the top of their receiver rotation with Brown, Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders.

Wallace is a restricted free agent, but Rooney has said that signing the Pro Bowler to a long-term contact is the top priority this offseason.

Rather than keep Ward, the Steelers could opt to retain Jerricho Cotchery, who was productive in limited action last season. He is an unrestricted free agent.

Ward, the longest-tenured Steelers player, has said he thinks he has at least one more productive season left. He has been with the Steelers since 1998, when they took him in the third round of the draft out of Georgia.

Additional Information:

By the numbers

 

A look at Steelers receiver Hines Ward's career:

4: Pro Bowls made by Ward (2002-05)

7: Seasons in which Ward has served as a team captain

8: NFL players, including Ward, who have at least 1,000 catches

19: NFL players, including Ward, who have reached the 12,000-yard receiving milestone

91: Players taken ahead of Ward in the 1998 NFL draft

1,000: Ward's career receptions

12,083: Ward's career receiving yards

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