You've made some great points here yourself
I think if anyone deserves one last shot at Ward's 168 crown it's Froch to be honest although I think style wise confident Bute is a better match up to face Ward. This is due to Ward being a somewhat soft puncher so less likely to hurt Bute than Froch. As well as Bute being a southpaw which always has inherent issues for an orthordox fighter. However, Froch has the belt so it makes more sense for him to have the shot again in Vegas or Atlantic city due to unification bout. Provided Ward beats Froch again which I think he will then it's time to move up to 175, not worth Ward's time to wait for Direll, Groves or Degale as for one reason or another none are ready right now.
There are no huge names at 175, but there are two big names left Dawson and Cleverly which as I've already said would be good fights for Ward and great wins for anyone of them.
As for Ward vs Dawson, I agree with what you said that they wouldn't sign but my guess has to be that they were paid well enough although I don't know if that's true as I've seen Dawson's payday being touted from $600,000 to $1.3m. Furthermore maybe they were under the false impression that Chad would be fine at 168 and were just mistaken.
As for the retirement of Hopkins you make a good point and I'm now in agreement that this fight should be filed under unlikely.
Ward's career at 168 has peaked and can't really improve due to what he's done. His overall career still has plenty of time and potential achievements left. Personally looking forward to Ward at 175 and respect that he's doing it earlier in his career than Joe even if there's no-one quite as good as 2008 Bhop although Clev and Dawson can't be far off
Great post mate!
I've nothing more to add to this.
I agree with everything you've said.