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Old 09-05-2005, 08:55 AM   #1
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Smile Ward, close to signing!

By Joe Bendel
Monday, September 5, 2005

Steelers Pro Bowl wideout Hines Ward said Sunday his contract extension is all but complete, save a few details.
"It's more logistics now - it's just a matter of how it's broken down," he said. "They're close."

Ward added that he planned to sit down with his agent Eugene Parker for dinner last night in Pittsburgh to work out particulars such as incentives.

Although the deal was not yet done as of yesterday evening, an announcement could come as early as today.

Mindful that the Steelers traditionally cease negotiations once the regular season begins - they have made exceptions in the past when believing a deal is imminent - Ward pushed to get the deal done and said he was willing to make concessions in order to do so.

The Steelers open the regular season this Sunday at Heinz Field against Tennessee.

"I said, 'Hey, OK, let's get this done," Ward said.

The Steelers negotiated with Parker late into the night Friday and extensively Saturday and yesterday.

Ward, 29, had originally planned to go home to Atlanta for the Labor Day weekend, following the team's final preseason game at Carolina last Thursday.

"I wanted to weigh the pros and cons of everything," he said.

But he had a change of heart, stayed in Pittsburgh and pushed to get the new contract hammered out. He attended the Pitt-Notre Dame game with Jerome Bettis, Ben Roethlisberger and several other teammates Saturday night at Heinz Field.

"Just being here and getting all the support from the fans gave me a strong feeling," Ward said. "I told my agent, 'Hey, let's settle this (deal).'"

Ward said he had a moment of clarity while sitting in a suite at the North Shore stadium Saturday night.

"It's a special atmosphere, and I had a different viewpoint of Heinz Field for that game," he said. "I thought, 'For me, this is where I want to play for the rest of my career.'"

Prior to training camp, the Steelers offered Ward the highest signing bonus in franchise history. He was dissatisfied, however, with the guaranteed money over the length of the deal and turned it down. He counter-offered, but the Steelers turned him down.

The result was a stalemate. Ward failed to show up for training camp on July 31.

Steelers Director of Football Operations Kevin Colbert responded by saying the team would no longer negotiate until Ward reported. Fifteen days later, Ward was back, and talks resumed.

Things didn't heat up until the last several days.

"Do I regret holding out?" said Ward, who is scheduled to earn $1.66 million in the final year of his current deal this season. "No, I don't. It was a business decision. They know how I felt business-wise."

Ward, who had just three catches in limited action during three preseason games, went through a myriad of emotions since returning three weeks ago. On one hand, he was glad to be back on the field playing the game he loves. On the other hand, the weight of the negotiations hovered.

"I was out there, but I wasn't out there," said Ward, a four-time Pro Bowler who's averaged 95 catches the past four seasons and is 33 receptions shy of the Steelers' all-time record. "It's hard just to have peace of mind to go out there and know that you're close to getting a contract done, but it's still not there. It was like heaven and hell, I guess. So, I was out on the football field, but I wasn't really out on the field. Was my mind totally on football? I can't say that it was. I love football and I have fun playing it, but there's that business side that is all a part of this."

Ward didn't reveal the terms of his imminent extension, but seemed to be satisfied with the guaranteed money. He expects the contract to stretch from five to seven years, which would get him ever closer to becoming a "Steeler for life.

"Not many guys can say they played 10-12 years with the organization," said Ward, who's played all seven of his season with the Steelers since being drafted out of Georgia in the third round. "I don't think we've had a player on this team with that opportunity. I think Jason Gildon was the highest (-tenured player). For me, this is a perfect fit. I love the fans, and they've been supportive the whole way. This is a blue-collar town, and I like to play the game that way. I like to play it in front of these fans.

"At the same time, you want to get compensated fairly, and that's the whole thing. Now, I'm optimistic this is getting done, and everything will be set in place. I can't say every detail has been worked out, but I hope and plan to retire as a Pittsburgh Steeler."

X's & O's -- The Steelers didn't officially release their complete practice squad Sunday. Wide receiver Walter Young, guard Jim Jones, fullback Zach Tuiasosopo, linebacker Andre Frazier and defensive end Shaun Nua (No. 7a, Brigham Young) will be brought back to fill five of the up-to-eight spots the Steelers have available. The Steelers intended to bring No. 4 pick Fred Gibson, a wide receiver from Georgia, back onto the practice squad, but Gibson signed with Miami's practice squad. The Steelers also wanted center/guard Ben Claxton (first-year pro, Mississippi) to return on the practice squad, but he was claimed for a spot on the 53-man roster by Atlanta.

Let's hope this turns out!

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