A year ago, it would have been crazy to think either quarterback Peyton Manning or wide receiver Hines Ward would be free agents this spring, but both future Hall of Famers find themselves out of a job, at least, temporarily.
It’s been over two weeks now since Indianapolis and Pittsburgh announced the releases of star players Manning and Ward. As painful as it may be, both releases were somewhat expected and necessary for each franchise. That just goes to show you how quickly things can change in the NFL.
It was just two seasons ago, QB Manning lead the Colts to the Super Bowl winning 16 games in the process. Now in the last two seasons, Indianapolis has won 12 games.
Ward also had a great 2009 season bringing in 95 catches for 1,167 yards. After that, however, his career began to decline and did so very quickly. This past season, Ward lost his starting job to younger, faster up-and-coming Steeler receivers.
It is quite ironic that these two players were cut at virtually the same time. Manning and Ward came into the league together in the 1998 NFL draft. The Steelers selected Ward in the third round, and Manning went number one overall. By the turn of the millennium, both were not only NFL stars, but the face of the franchises and cities that they played for.
It will take some getting used to seeing each player in a different uniform. QB Manning will definitely land with a team somewhere; he has more suitors than Scarlett O’Hara did in Gone with the Wind
. For Ward, it might be a little more difficult. At 36, which Manning and Ward will be at the start of the 2012 season, it is much easier to remain competitive at the quarterback position than receiver. Nevertheless, Ward should be able to find a spot on some team as a slot receiver or at least a crafty veteran backup.
So each player will be wearing different colors next season. Which one will be weirder, Manning in Dolphin white or Ward in a ‘dirty bird’ Falcon jersey? But also for the fans of Indianapolis and Pittsburgh, which city will be in the most pain to see their star in different colors? Manning, who could be considered a top three quarterback of all-time or Ward, who epitomized the Pittsburgh way and captivated a city with his smile.