NFL preseason football is underway, and the excitement for the coming season is too much for me to bare. After an amazing 15-1 season last year, the Pittsburgh Steelers are poised yet again, to make another run for the playoffs.
Typically, as each preseason day passes, my optimism on the team’s chances grows larger and larger. This year is a different story though.
Two seasons ago, the Steelers broke company policy by renegotiating the contract of then-quarterback Tommy Maddox, who at the time was comeback player of the year. As soon as that happened, Steelers wide receiver, Hines Ward spoke up about his shabby $1.6 million/year salary (way below market value for a two-time Pro-Bowler). The Steelers, operating with little cap room, asked Hines to wait for a year, and he would get his contract. Hines was displeased, but he figured that the Steelers front office would be true to their word.
Well, now’s the time for the Pittsburgh Steelers to stay true to their word, and here we are, one week into camp, and no signs of Hines Ward. Ward contacted the Steelers and openly told them that he wanted to be paid based on how good he is, which means a “Top 5” salary. After the Steelers made Ward an offer that he deemed insufficient,Ward made a counter-offer, and the Steelers rejected it.
Now Ward is holding out. He’s missed a full week of camp, and tension is rising. The Steelers director of football operations, Kevin Colbert, has drawn the line in the sand, and has publicly stated that as long as Ward no-shows camp, he will not get a new contract. Yet, Ward has said that he will not show until he gets a new deal. Egos are colliding and both sides are losing.
To be honest, Ward has right on his side. He is the perfect Pittsburgh Steeler. At a position that is usually played by some of the game’s wimpiest players, Hines Ward shows no fear knocking down a 300 pound defensive linemen so his running back can gain an extra yard or two. Ward’s play on the field has earned him the billing as the “best all-around wide receiver in the game.” Hines hits and gets hit, and he does it all with that trademark grin everytime. It is for this reason that in a traditionally stingy town where the fans and the Steelers front office know what we do when players whine about more money than their worth (later dude), that fans are willing to break tradition. Steelers fans know that Hines deserves the money, and this holdout only makes fans displeased with the organization.
The other problem the holdout creates is hostility on the team. Nearly every player has openly come out in support of Hines, and if he does not get the contract he wants and the players think he deserves, you will have a lot of guys packing their bags for new teams next year. Who wants to play for a team that doesn’t compensate unmatchable effort and success?
As we sit and wait for this nightmare to end, it is clear that someone needs to bend, and I think it is the job of the Steelers to bend first. Hines should be making the big bucks he deserves. He’ll be happy. The team will be happy. The fans will be happy. It’s a simple exchange of value for value.