Hines Ward wants to make a few things perfectly clear: He wants to play for the Steelers in 2012, but, if they do not want him, he still wants to play next season
He just does not want to think about the second part of the equation at the moment.
"It would be weird, not how I want it to happen," Ward said of playing for another team next season. "But I do want to play. I still think I can play. I'm not even thinking like that -- what if. If that scenario happens, I'll be devastated, but I do want to play football."
He understands he would have to take a pay cut from his $4 million salary next season. He has two seasons left on his contract and is willing to do that. Such a decision must be made, however, by March 1 because Ward said a clause in his contract states that they must guarantee his job by then or release him.
"I'd probably have to restructure my contract," Ward said of the pay cut. "That's fine with me. I recognize that. I'm telling you I want to be here, I'm telling you I'm willing to do that. And I understand the ramifications -- we have the cap number and stuff, but I want to be here."
As for not starting, Ward noted that happened this season.
"Obviously, I was a starter, and then it went the way it did. That's fine, I don't have a problem with not starting. But I want to play, I want to try to win another Super Bowl. I want to do it for this organization. I want to help this team out. I still think I can help this team, on the field, off the field with the younger guys, still be there for the team. I'm willing to do all that."
No one has talked to him yet about his future, Ward said. He will have minor surgery on his right ankle to shave down bone spurs. He also is looking forward to a rest after a year in which he played football into the Super Bowl in February, had knee surgery, won "Dancing With the Stars," had surgery on his thumb and rejoined his teammates for the 2011 season after the lockout ended.
If the Steelers do not want him back next season, Ward hopes fans understand if he signs elsewhere.
"I want to be here. I mean, if they decide they don't want me here, it's not my choice. I wouldn't see why Steelers fans would be angry at me, if I still think I can play. I want to play here. I don't want to put on another uniform, but, at the end of the day, it's not my choice. There's nothing I can do about it."
Ward will turn 36 March 8 and noted "They always say play as long as you can.
"The biggest thing, like Tony Gonzalez, these guys are older than me. And I don't hear if they're retiring or not. Donald Driver, a year older than me, still playing good football...
"I'm just looking year to year, but I do want to play next year. If they decide to part ways, I'll be devastated, but life's not over. I'm still young.
"My thing is, I want to be a Steeler, I'm here, I'm willing to restructure, do whatever. I don't want to be seen in another uniform but, if they decide to part ways, or whatever, I don't know, I'm not even thinking like that. I couldn't even fathom myself [in another uniform], but I still want to play football."
Emmanuel Sanders, one of those young Steelers receivers who helped push Ward down the depth chart, knows where the team's future lies at the position. He also believes there is room for Ward.
"If he comes back, we are going to welcome him with open arms," said Sanders, who completed his second season by leading the Steelers in receiving in the playoff loss Sunday in Denver. "Hines has helped the receiving corps a lot. He definitely taught me, Antonio [Brown] and Mike [Wallace] what it takes to be a pro in this league. So, he is a great addition to this receiving corps.
"We know the direction in which we are going with the receiving corps. But, again, Hines is still a great addition. Just the knowledge he brings to the room, you can't pay for that, you can't coach that. He just brings that well-being of how to be a pro into the room."
For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Ed Bouchette: email@example.com and Twitter @EdBouchette. First Published January 11, 2012 5:00 AM