PITTSBURGH - Let's put aside the sentiment and just deal with the facts:
n By the end of last season, Hines Ward was seeing less action than the long snapper.
n Aaron Smith was only able to play in 15 games over the last three seasons.
n James Farrior had slowed to the point that he was sharing his position with Larry Foote.
So in that context, the Steelers' decision to release all three players isn't surprising. In fact, it makes perfect sense.
This isn't about what they've done for the Steelers in the past. It's what they could do in 2012.
In all three cases, the Steelers determined - correctly - that they need to find better options.
There's an urgency because of current salary cap issues, but the cap system requires constant evaluation of veterans who have climbed the pay scale.
If that seems cold and cruel, it's your fault.
Fans hold the Steelers to a standard. They're expected to make the playoffs every year, and some people get upset when they don't go far enough in the postseason.
That's the expectation. It's better than constantly shooting for a .500 season, isn't it?
The Steelers cut three players who are an important part of franchise history. They contributed on and off the field.
But they're not running a museum at Heinz Field. They have a football team that expects to be successful.
You don't do that by looking back. Thanks to Hines, Aaron and James. It was great while it lasted.
But it came with a 2011 expiration date.
The surprise isn't that the New Orleans Saints were putting bounties on opposing players.
The surprise is that the payment was so low.
Just $1,000 for knocking a player out of a game?
That won't even cover a decent night on the town for some players. What kind of incentive is $1,000 in a world where players make millions? They can pick up $1,000 signing autographs for two hours at a car dealership, and they don't have to risk any bodily harm of their own.
Bounties are not uncommon in contact sports, whether it's on the record or not.
If a team is foolish enough to leave a trail, the NFL is going to act.
The penalties assessed by the league won't make bounty hunting go away; it will just force it back underground.
We'd probably like to think the games we enjoy are beyond that level of savagery, but they're not.
Mehno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.