Many people figured that going into the 2012 NFL season, it could be the final year we see Rashard Mendenhall in a Pittsburgh Steelers uniform. It had little to do with the fact that he was coming off of a major knee injury from the end of last season, but the team made little effort to lock him up to a long term deal even before the injury. With Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman in the mix as well, the Steelers always rotated their running backs throughout most games.
The Steelers also drafted Chris Rainey, although he is not expected to ever serve as a primary running back. he may wind up taking more of a Percy Harvin type of role with the Minnesota Vikings. Still, with a plethora of backs already in the mix, the Steelers didn’t see it as a wise decision to invest so much money in Mendenhall, or any one running back, period.
That now seems like a smart move on Pittsburgh’s part. Between injuries and ineffectiveness, the Steelers have actually demoted Mendenhall all the way from No. 1 on their depth chart and backfield to the No. 3 spot, behind Dwyer and Redman, in that order.
To be fair, no one back has had a consistently solid season. At times, all three have looked great. At other times, such as last Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, in a game where seemingly every single skill player turned the ball over for the Steelers, all three have looked less than average. Overall, the Steelers feel the most comfortable with Dwyer receiving more carries than anyone else, but that will not mean that Redman or Mendenhall will not get any touches. All three will likely remain involved in the offense.
But the move should signal that this will be the final season in Pittsburgh for Mendenhall, as he will hope to land a job elsewhere in 2013. If he believes that he is still a true No. 1 back who can carry the load on a weekly basis, the Pittsburgh is not the place for him.
Of course, if he can’t get his yards per carry numbers up, he may have a difficult time convincing any team that he can still be a workhorse running back in this league.
Between injuries and ineffectiveness, Mendenhall picked a poor time to post some of his worst numbers, especially as he enters this offseason as an unrestricted free agent.