Hines Ward’s constant, ear-to-ear smile tucked behind a black facemask has been a lasting image for Pittsburgh Steelers fans the past 14 seasons.
They won’t see it again.
A four-time Pro Bowl selection, who holds franchise records for receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, the former Georgia Bulldog will be released by the organization that drafted him in 1998.
“We had a conversation today with Hines Ward and informed him that we plan to release him of his contract prior to the start of the 2012 NFL calendar year,” Steelers President Art Rooney II said in a statement on the team’s Web site Wednesday. “Hines has been an integral part of our success since we drafted him in 1998, and we will forever be grateful for what he has helped us achieve.”
A four-time Pro Bowl selection, Ward will finish his Steelers career with 1,000 catches, 12,083 yards and 85 receiving touchdowns. He helped Pittsburgh to three AFC championships, and two Super Bowl titles.
REDSKINS: Plan to add a high-profile wide receiver in an NFL free agent market that has them in abundance, according to several people familiar with the team’s deliberations.
A leading target for the Redskins could be San Diego Chargers wide receiver Vincent Jackson.
But Jackson and some other top receivers with expiring contracts might not be available after Monday’s deadline for teams to use their franchise-player tags. The Chargers, according to one source, have not ruled out using that designation on Jackson but seem to be leaning against doing so.
Another receiver who could draw interest from the Redskins is Pierre Garcon, a prospective free agent who has spent his four NFL seasons with the Indianapolis Colts.
Even if Jackson and Garcon sign elsewhere, the list of wideouts eligible for unrestricted free agency includes Kansas City’s Dwayne Bowe, Philadelphia’s DeSean Jackson, New England’s Wes Welker, the Colts’ Reggie Wayne, Marques Colston of New Orleans, Buffalo’s Stevie Johnson, the New York Jets’ Plaxico Burress and the New York Giants’ Mario Manningham. Bowe, Welker and DeSean Jackson are candidates for their teams’ franchise tags, however.
ESPN HIRES POLIAN: Former Colts Vice Chairman Bill Polian has joined the network as an NFL analyst.
Polian makes his debut March 12 and will appear throughout the year on several ESPN shows, including SportsCenter.
HALL OF FAME GAME: The NFL says the Arizona Cardinals will play the New Orleans Saints on Aug. 5 to kick off the preseason in the Hall of Fame game.
NFL Network will televise the game, which starts at 8 p.m..