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Hines Ward, Steelers Will Part Ways

The Pittsburgh Steelers announced on Wednesday that longtime receiver Hines Ward will not be back with the team next season. Ward's contract is up so this can't be considered a major shock, but he's been with the team for 14 years.

Ward has spent his entire career with the Steelers since he joined the team back in 1998. He's been one of the most productive and consistent receivers in history with over 12,000 yards and 85 touchdowns in his NFL career. He is the Pittsburgh franchise leader in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.

Via the Steelers release:

"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 the team's website,

"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."

Retirement rumors followed Ward earlier this year but he has denied them. It's unclear what his plans are moving forward. The Steelers made the right football decision here, as Ward's skills were declining and the team had clearly moved on given how his role decreased throughout the season. Ward is 36 years old and may have trouble generating much interest from other teams in free agency.

For more on Hines Ward and the Pittsburgh Steelers, visit SB Nation's Steelers blog Behind The Steel Curtain. And for more on Pittsburgh sports, visit SB Nation Pittsburgh.