There's been plenty of order to BTSC lately. A series dedicated to the various units of the roster; a look back at old draft classes, etc. Time for just some verbal vomit about one of my favorite athletes in any sport, Hines Ward.
The question that keeps popping up in my mind is, 'how much longer are we going to be able to enjoy watching him play and produce for the Steelers?'
Here's how I see it: clearly, we've got incredibly gifted and young playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. If Santonio Holmes can stay healthy for 13-16 games a year, he's going to make Pro Bowls, have 80+ catch seasons, and establish himself as one of the better lesser-known WRs in all of football. Same with Heath Miller. He may just be the best player that nobody knows about. Certainly the best TE. Just recently, I read a discussion about the league's best TEs and nowhere to be found was Miller in just about everybody's top-5.
And then of course, we have Ben Roethlisberger. We'll see if he's able to have quite as good a season in '08 as he did in '07, but if he just learns to get rid of it a touch quicker, and more importantly, gets some more protection from his line, there's no reason to think he won't have near a 2:1 TD to INT ratio and help Pittsburgh have one of the better and more balanced offensive attacks in the league.
Here's the caveat though. Depending on what happens with Max Starks (and not just the contract negotiation, but also his performance in '08 if he is signed), and depending on whether Kendall Simmons and Willie Colon are able to improve tremendously right away, the fact remains that we may be a couple of years away from being legit contenders for our 6th Lombardi Trophy. That's not to say we can't win it all with a mediocre line, but let's be honest, our odds rise astronomically if we can shore up that very critical aspect of our game.
Whether it's his foundation, charity work in Pittsburgh, playing WR, or just stopping for
a picture with a group of girls that may or may not be of age, Ward's time and talents
are in very high demand. How much longer will he dole it out to the Steelers exclusively?
So, the question is, will Ward be around long enough if it does in fact take until 2010 until we have ourselves a bonafide offensive line again? Hines turns 32 years old on Saturday (happy early b-day Hines), and has been in the league since '98. I wouldn't say there's cause for concern just yet with him and injuries, but the past three years marked the first time that he has missed a game in his entire career. From '98 until '04, Ward played in 16 games per year. In '05, he played in 15; in '06, 14. And last year, he missed three contests. Like I said, nothing alarming, but his amazing longevity and durability in the early years of his career means he's got a lot of miles on those wheels of his. And it's not like he shies away from contact either. In the running game or the passing game.
Without pontificating too much myself, I open it to the group: how long do you see Hines Ward competing in the NFL? I will mention that his contract is set to expire at the end of 2009. Does he extend for another year or two? Does he call it quits that year at the age of 34? Or, perhaps, might he re-sign for a relatively low number if he feels the Steelers are in great shape for championship contention in 2010 and/or 2011?
Who knows, but the reality is that the day we fans no longer get to watch Hines Ward compete is coming. Not tomorrow. And not even this year, most likely. But it's coming, and that makes me sad.
Disucss. Make me feel better.