Wexell: Pay the man

He's a favored source, not just for his information but his logic. And he made great sense in attempting to convince me -- a supporter of Hines Ward's quest for an eight-figure signing bonus -- that if Ward were to accept closer to the $9 million or so the Steelers will rise to in this renegotiation, Ward would also benefit from the perks that come with staying with one team in one town through one career.

It made sense, but I didn't -- as the kids say these days -- go all in.

Funny, though, one of the columnists in town did. In questioning how Ward could call himself a leader if he were to hold out, the columnist wrote that Ward will "be risking what could easily turn out to be a gravy-train association with the Steelers."

Where have we heard that before?

So, yes, the source is getting around. The other paper would be more difficult to impress. There are no Plaxico Burress uberfans at the Post-Gazette; the Steelers would have to deliver facts.

They did. They cleared up this business about the No. 1 signing bonus in team history. The Steelers apparently leaked to the Post-Gazette that Ben Roethlisberger's signing bonus was closer to $7.8 million than the record $9 million, which had been reported last year.

This is an important change because, for Ward, this contract renegotiation isn't all about money; it's about love, respect, loyalty – the same intangibles Ward brings to the football field.

Of course, what better way to show that love and respect and loyalty than with money? In Ward's case, that money – whatever money it is -- should rank him No. 1 on the team, and by a distinctive margin. Not exceptional, distinctive. That's what he's looking for, if just for a year, maybe two, until Roethlisberger renegotiates.

The point the Steelers are making by their dealings with the media is they consider this a serious negotiation.

Don't let their leisurely approach fool you; they're softening the waters first.

But it probably won't work. The public sees Hines Ward as everything anyone's ever wanted in a football player. The public is behind Hines Ward on this one. The analysts and experts have tried to downplay Ward's physical attributes ever since doctors discovered he was missing an ACL coming out of college, but Ward has not been topped by anyone in terms of preparation – body, mind and spirit -- and then he's produced. What more do the Steelers want?

Ward will complain about team policy if necessary, but it's something Jerome Bettis could've done a little bit more of in his prime.

When Ward wondered why the team needed to spend back-to-back No. 1 draft picks at his position, he proved on the field that his question was justified. And when Ward complained about moving into the slot one camp so that Troy Edwards could work at split end, Ward was proven savvy when Edwards was released soon thereafter, a waste of everyone's time. And when Ward wondered why only the woefully undervalued Tommy Maddox was being renegotiated with more than one year remaining on his contract, he made a great point. Sometimes, players drastically outplay their earnings. When they drastically underplay their earnings, they are cut. Why the double standard?

You need thinkers, someone who will challenge poor tactics, and Ward is that, as well as the most physical flanker in the game. He'll run, catch, block, tackle on interceptions -- well, you've seen it. He's also the guy who's smiling on his way to the end zone. How are the Steelers going to make fans forget about that in a holdout?

Perhaps the Steelers believe Ward is a step slow, an inch short, an ACL behind the rest, and that when he inevitably loses another half step, he'll become an average player. But Ward has debunked this myth his entire career. Where is the proof he will slow down significantly at age 29? There is none that we know of.

Perhaps the Steelers are just gun-shy after their miscalculations on Chad Scott, Dewayne Washington and Jason Gildon. They should be, but that's just not good evidence in this case.

Ward's achievements: Went to four consecutive Pro Bowls and is on his way to passing John Stallworth's great team receiving record; an injured Ward excused himself from the New York Giants game to take a needle for the team; Ward was the only Steeler to play at a championship level in the semifinals past.

Think about that last one:

Did the defense play championship football?


Did the offensive line?


Did Roethlisberger?


Did the running game? Burress? The play-callers? Bill Cowher?

No, no, no, heck no.

Did Ward?

You know the answer. For a guy alleged by stat geeks to not be able to make big plays, he sure made plenty in the biggest game of the season.

A singles hitter? Bah. A poor leader by sitting out? That's just childish. Didn't the great Jack Lambert hold out for 39 days one camp? He understood his value and stood up for it. How can you be a leader and also be an idiot?

Lambert realized that accepting a low contract under the nebulous heading of unexplained future considerations is an act of blind faith. Aren't we both man enough to put this unpleasantness on paper without asking me to take a blind leap? I mean, I like you and all, but the blind leap is really very special.

Are you asking for my soul here?

Anyway, Hines Ward is the heart and soul of a 15-1 football team. All the Steelers have to do is bring him in, sit him down, explain their future considerations, how he can help the team's cap situation so they can win; just talk to the man.

They know they'll alienate customers by stonewalling Ward. And Ward is reasonable enough to understand all the positives of accepting a somewhat lesser contract and staying in Pittsburgh his entire career.

The first step was to clear up Roethlisberger's "record" signing bonus. The second step should be simple communication with Ward. The third step is easy: Pay the man.

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