So the Pittsburgh Steelers announced plans to release wide receiver Hines Ward yesterday, and just like clockwork, I’ve been getting emails and tweets from Panther fans wondering if Ward would be a good pickup for Carolina this offseason.
In a word, no.
And that’s not to diminish what Ward has done. He’s been one of the best blocking wide receivers in the league, he caught 1,000 passes in Pittsburgh, he was a four-time Pro Bowler, a Super Bowl MVP and even the “Dancing with the Stars” champion.
But Ward is also turning 36 next week. His body has taken 14 years of NFL punishment. He only caught 46 passes for 381 yards and two TDs in Pittsburgh last season. His high point — a 67-yard game — came in Week 1, and it went slowly downhill from there. Simply, he’s lost his burst.
That’s not to say Ward wouldn’t work somewhere as an elder statesman//third receiver type. Maybe he even ends up back in Pittsburgh at a lesser salary.
But the Panthers already have filled the role of “aging wide receiver who can still play” — it’s played by Steve Smith every week. Smith is younger and far more explosive than Ward. The Panthers don’t need Ward, Terrell Owens or Randy Moss — they need to develop some youth at the position that will be in Charlotte a long time and go along with quarterback Cam Newton. (Smith’s contract expires after the 2012 season, and what happens next is anyone’s guess, although he would like to stay in Charlotte and the Panthers should make every effort to keep the best player they have ever had).
David Gettis and Brandon LaFell will likely be the second and third receivers this season, but Carolina still needs another guy. Legedu Naanee started a lot over LaFell last season because he was such a good blocker and dirty-work guy. Maybe he comes back. Maybe it’s someone else. Maybe Carolina lucks into Justin Blackmon at No.9 in April’s NFL draft,a lthough I don’t think he will last that long.
But Ward? I wish him well and I admire his good work over the years, but I think it would be a mistake for the Panthers to make that investment.
— One additional college basketball note: As you likely know, Duke and UNC play each other Saturday night at Duke for the ACC regular-season championship and the No.1 seed in next week’s ACC tournament.
The Observer will post a video with some really cool highlights on Friday morning at CharlotteObserver.com where I will be picking my Top 5 All-time Comebacks in this 233-game series (Austin Rivers’ three-pointer is in there, but I won’t say where). So watch for that — the column to go along with the video will also be on the site and in the newspaper in the next 48 hours.