Fan favorite Hines Ward will be released by the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

And while the experience of a savvy group of veterans with a playoff pedigree is a major asset, time sure can take a toll on the bodies of long-tenured football players.

Injuries once again ripped through players old and young on the roster in 2011, and with the team desperate to shed salary, it only makes sense that some familiar faces won’t be back in black and gold in 2012.

Wide receiver Hines Ward will be among that group. After 14 years in Pittsburgh, the Steelers announced Wednesday that they will release the 35-year old fan favorite.

“Hines has been an integral part of our success since we drafted him in 1998, and we will forever be grateful for what he has helped us achieve,” team president art Rooney II said on the team’s Web site.

A four-time Pro Bowl selection and the 2006 Super Bowl MVP, Ward amassed 12,083 yards and 85 touchdowns on 1,000 career receptions. He helped the Steelers to two Super Bowl titles and three AFC championships. And while his 2011 production slipped to his lowest totals since his rookie season (46 receptions, 381 yards, 2 touchdowns), it’s Ward’s toughness and broad smile that Steel City fans will remember most.

The move signals the team’s intention to re-up 25-year-old burner Mike Wallace to lead a group that includes talented youngsters Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. As’s Neal Coolong writes:

The Steelers will attempt to re-sign Wallace via an RFA tender in a worst-case scenario. Wrapping him up in a long-term deal now will not only save money on the cap (the $2.6 million tender would be guaranteed, and all would count against the cap, as opposed to a long-term deal which would spread more money out over a longer period of time), but it will take one bullet out of the chamber for the game of Receiver Roulette they're forced to play.

“We all know the direction in which we’re going with the receiving corps,” Sanders said. “But, like I said, Hines is still a great addition, just the knowledge he brings to the room. You can’t pay for that. You can’t coach that. He just brings that well being of how to be a pro into the room.

Now Ward must find a new place to share his knowledge and remaining skills, but putting on a new helmet will no doubt be a strange feeling.

“I gave my heart and soul for (the fans) every down and I will always bleed black-and-gold,” Ward said.