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Ward ends holdout with Steelers

From Staff and Wire Reports

PITTSBURGH - Former Forest Park High School standout and Pro Bowl wide receiver Hines Ward is ending his 15-day contract holdout and will report to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the team plans to announce in a Monday night news conference.

The announcement was scheduled for 75 minutes before the Eagles-Steelers exhibition game.

Ward, poised to become the leading receiver in Steelers' history this season, became the team's first major holdout in 12 years on July 31 - keeping his promise not to report to training camp without a contract extension that would make him one of the NFL's top-paid wide receivers.

Ward, who was a quarterback and running back as well as a wide receiver at Georgia, has one year remaining on a contract worth $1.66 million this season, but wanted guaranteed money that would put him in the upper echelon of NFL receivers.

The two sides were believed to be at least $3 million apart on a signing bonus when talks broke down just before camp opened.

Since Ward failed to report, several teammates made impassioned pleas for the team to re-sign Ward, with linebacker Joey Porter saying the Steelers "can't win without him." And running back Jerome Bettis said teammates were watching how the Steelers handled the Ward contract talks after the team asked several players in recent seasons - including Bettis himself - to take pay cuts to stay with the team.

Ward's absence threatened to create a major distraction for a team that went 15-1 and played in the AFC championship game last season, and left quarterback Ben Roethlisberger without either starting wide receiver from his unbeaten rookie regular season. Plaxico Burress signed with the Giants during the offseason.

The Steelers were so thin on receivers last week in camp with Ward gone and Antwaan Randle El hurt that fourth-round draft pick Fred Gibson, an unpolished rookie from Georgia, spent two days with the first unit.

Ward, one of the NFL's top-blocking receivers, and Bettis have personified the Steelers' offense for years. Ward is within 33 catches of breaking Hall of Famer John Stallworth's team record of 537 receptions.

Ward was believed to be en route to Pittsburgh from his Atlanta home and apparently planned to attend the Eagles-Steelers game.

As a member of the Forest Park football team from 1991-93, Ward earned Clayton County Offensive Player of the Year honors in 1992 and 93.

During his senior season in 1993, Ward ran for 1,111 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also passed for 1,575 yards and 14 touchdowns.