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Steelers to release Ward; will Driver depart?

Feb 29, 2012 -- 9:13pm

GREEN BAY – Green Bay Packers wide receiver Donald Driver is following in Hines Ward’s dance steps by joining the cast of ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, but the popular Driver’s ardent supporters hope he doesn’t meet the same fate as the Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver and former DWTS winner.

The Steelers announced Wednesday that they will release the four-time Pro Bowl receiver and Super Bowl MVP, who like Driver is immensely popular with his team’s fan base.

"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 told Steelers.com. "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.

"He has meant so much to this organization both on and off the field, and we appreciate his efforts over the past 14 years. Hines' accomplishments are numerous, and he will always be thought of as one of the all-time great Steelers. We wish him nothing but the best."

It’s unclear whether Ward, who turns 36 next week, will call it a career or continue with another team. He was due to make $4 million in 2012, after serving as the Steelers’ fourth or fifth receiver last season. Ward is the Steelers' all-time leader in catches, yards receiving, and receiving touchdowns.

“I do feel that I still have more football left in me and I am looking forward to playing in the NFL again this upcoming season,” Ward told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “This isn’t how I wanted this chapter of my career to end. I did everything in my power to remain a Steeler and finish what I started here 14 years ago. I want to thank the organization, my teammates and coaches and everyone who made my run as a Steeler the best years of my life. To Mr. Rooney, thank you for allowing me to play for one of the greatest organizations in the world. To my fans and in particular Steeler Nation, thank you for your support and all the great memories. I gave my heart and soul for you every down and I will always bleed black and gold.”

While it’s unclear whether the Steelers offered Ward a chance to stay with the team at a reduced salary. Ward previously had said he’d be willing to take a pay cut, and the 10-plus-year veteran minimum salary is $925,000.

Driver, who turned 37 on Feb. 2 and is the Packers’ all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards, has said that he’s willing to take a pay cut to return for a 14th season with the Packers.

Driver is under contract for the 2012 season, with a $2.2 million roster bonus due in March, a $200,000 workout bonus and a $2.6 million base salary, giving him a $5 million salary-cap number. Yahoo! Sports reported last week that the team intended to restructure Driver’s contract and bring him back next season.

Driver, who first joined the Packers as an unknown seventh-round draft pick from Alcorn State in 1999, finished the regular season having caught 37 passes for 445 yards and six touchdowns, ranking him fifth on the team in both receptions and yardage. The day after the Packers’ season-ending NFC Divisional Playoff loss to the eventual Super Bowl-champion New York Giants, Driver said he had no intention of retiring and that he’d play for another team if the Packers didn’t want him back.

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