PITTSBURGH — Hines Ward believes he can still play football. The longtime Pittsburgh wide receiver known for his high-wattage smile and his bone-crunching blocks just couldn’t stomach the thought of doing it in some strange uniform on some strange field with nary a Terrible Towel in sight.

“I just wouldn’t feel right,” Ward said.

So rather than play for a 15th season – and his first outside the Steel City – a tearful Ward opted to retire on Tuesday and secure a legacy unmatched in the franchise’s long history.

“I can say I’m a Steeler for life and that’s the bottom line, that’s all I’ve really ever wanted,” Ward said.

Ward holds every significant franchise receiving record, including receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. His 1,000 career catches rank eighth all time and he is one of the two players with at least 1,000 receptions and two Super Bowl rings.

The decision came three weeks after the 36-year-old was released by the Steelers in a salary-cap maneuver. Ward said he was contacted by several clubs but never had any formal discussions. He insisted there are no hard feelings for his release, understanding that football is a business. As if to prove the point, Ward embraced Steelers owner Art Rooney II after stepping away from the podium following the announcement.

“Thank you (Mr. Rooney) for giving a small-town boy from Forest Park, Ga., a chance,” Ward said.

The former third-round pick out of Georgia was due to make $4 million next season, an expensive option for a player whose role diminished significantly in 2011, when he finished with 46 receptions, the fewest since his rookie season in 1998.


LIONS: A person familiar with the deal said Detroit and linebacker Stephen Tulloch agreed to a five-year contract.

The Lions re-signed defensive tackle Andre Fluellen to a one-year contract.

REDSKINS: Offensive lineman Kory Lichtensteiger signed his one-year, $1.26 million restricted free-agent tender to remain with Washington.


DOLPHINS: More than two dozen fans gathered outside the Dolphins’ complex to protest the way the team is being run, and the spectacle prompted GM Jeff Ireland to act.

The notoriously media-shy GM telephoned several reporters out of the blue and attempted to explain a series of recent decisions that have drawn national ridicule. It was the latest odd turn in a bizarre sequence of events for Ireland and the Dolphins.

Several of the fans wore bags over their heads, and others held signs that read “FIRELAND.”

Ireland asked fans for patience and said his moves shouldn’t be judged until the offseason is over.


TRADE: The Philadelphia Eagles acquired two-time Pro Bowl linebacker DeMeco Ryans from the Houston Texans for a fourth-round draft pick in 2012.


TITANS: Tennessee agreed to terms with defensive end Kamerion Wimbley on a multi-year deal.

The 6-foot-4 Wimbley has 42.5 career sacks. The 13th pick overall in 2006 had 11 sacks as a rookie in Cleveland. He had 16 sacks in 32 games as a linebacker in Oakland the past two seasons before being released last week.


PACKERS: Cornerback and special-teams ace Jarrett Bush agreed to a three-year deal to return to Green Bay.


JAGUARS: Cornerback Aaron Ross, a two-time starter in the Super Bowl and the Giants’ first-round pick in 2007, agreed to terms with Jacksonville as a free agent. He will sign a three-year deal that could be worth up to $15.3 million.