The Steelers sign Ward to a 4-year deal worth $26M
The wide receiver walked away from contract negotiations with more money than he expected to get.
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Hines Ward now knows how much he is valued in Pittsburgh.
The four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver is one of the few players to walk away from contract negotiations with the Steelers with more money than he expected to get.
Ward, on the verge of becoming the leading receiver in franchise history, agreed Monday to a four-year contract that could be worth as much as $25.8 million and includes $10 million in guaranteed money and more than $2 million in incentives.
If he collects those bonuses, Ward will earn more than the $12 million in assured money he wanted before the extended negotiations began. The Steelers were believed to have originally offered $8 million to $9 million in guaranteed money.
"I think they went out of their way," Ward said of an organization that has long set its own value on player contracts and ignored the huge money deals given by other teams. "It was far more than what I expected."
Wants to stay in Pittsburgh
Ward had one year remaining on his previous contract, worth $1.67 million this year, and is now signed through 2009. The total value is far less than the $49 million, seven-year deal Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens wants renegotiated. But Ward, an all-around receiver rather than a game-breaking downfield threat, was determined to end his career in Pittsburgh.
"I look good in black and gold," he said. "The contract is going to make me work even harder, just to prove I'm worth every penny of what they gave me."
Ward's two-week holdout when training camp began was the first by a veteran Steeler since running back Barry Foster in 1993, and Ward returned Aug. 15 only because the franchise held to its policy of not negotiating with holdouts. The Steelers traditionally don't negotiate during the season, either, which led to a busy weekend of talks between agent Eugene Parker and the team.
"These things can get ugly and can become major distractions," team president Art Rooney II said. "While these things can be difficult, it was something we got through without having it become the kind of distraction that can really disrupt a team."
Fans behind him
Ward had something else going for him in his negotiations: fan support. Ward's physical style of play and passion for the game, at a skill position, have come to so personify the Steelers that the fans clearly sided with him.
It also helped that his current contract was so undervalued he was barely among the NFL's top 40 highest-paid receivers.
"I was a little worried with the holdout, of people questioning my character and being put in the category of a T.O.," Ward said. "But I went to pick up my wife and son at the airport yesterday and the lady at the Great Steak place said, 'I can't give you a million dollars, but I can give you a steak sandwich for free.' I got a kick out of that."
Relieved at finally reaching a deal the Steelers previously called their top off-season priority, Ward went out Monday and had what he called "a great practice" before Sunday's opener against Tennessee.
"I can go into the season focused now. I'm going to play until the wheels fall off," he said. "I know only one style and one way to play it, and that's how I have to play."