The Pittsburgh Steelers have announced they will release veteran receiver Hines Ward.

Ward, who turns 36 next week, saw his role in the offense fade dramatically in 2011. He put up his worst numbers since his 1998 rookie season, catching just 46 passes for 381 yards and scoring just twice. Revealing just how bad things got, Ward’s best output of the season came when he had 67 receiving yards in Week 1. In his final game of the year, a heartbreaking wild-card loss to the Broncos, Ward was held without a catch and dropped a pair of passes.

Now we’ll see if Ward looks to catch on elsewhere. It’s a crowded free-agent market at the wide receiver position, but as one of the toughest receivers we’ve ever seen live, Ward isn’t prone to shy away from crowds.

If Ward does decide to walk away, the Hall of Fame discussion should be an interesting one.

UPDATE: Here’s a statement from Ward:

This isn’t how I wanted this chapter of my career to end. I did everything in my power to remain a Steeler and finish what I started here 14 years ago. I want to thank the organization, my teammates and coaches and everyone who made my run as a Steeler the best years of my life. To Mr. Rooney, thank you for allowing me to play for one of the greatest organizations in the world. To my fans and in particular, Steeler Nation, thank you for your support and all the great memories. I gave my heart and soul for you every down and I will always bleed black and gold. I do feel that I still have more football left in me and I am looking forward to playing in the NFL, again, this upcoming season.

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