Today Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall celebrates his 25th birthday and you have to wonder if it is the last one that he will have as a member of the black and gold.
Mendenhall, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract, more than likely will start the 2012 season on the PUP list as he continues to rehab the torn ACL he suffered in the regular season finale against the Cleveland Browns. Should that indeed come to fruition it means that he is guaranteed to miss at least the first six games, and likely even more. A return to the 53 man roster is more than likely to take place anywhere between week 9 and 13.
Even when Mendenhall returns, there could be a chance that he does not have a starting job to reclaim depending on how Isaac Redman performs during his absence. Regardless, the Steelers are likely to ease him back into action upon his return.
The former first round draft pick will be an unrestricted free agent following the season and you can bet that the Steelers will not use the franchise tag on him, even though he is likely to still have less than 1,000 regular season carries under his belt. That is not a lot of wear and tear on a feature back after five seasons.
You have to think that the next contract that Mendenhall receives will likely be his last though and I fully expect him to at least test free agency before taking any type of deal that the Steelers may offer him. Keep in mind that Antonio Brown will more than likely be the main focus of the Steelers next off-season, and so too could be Mike Wallace if a long-term deal is not reached prior to the start of this season.
While Redman too will be a free agent at seasons\’ end, he will be of the restricted variety and easily retained with tender. What level that tender will be is dependent on the type of season that he has this year.
Will Mendenhall hit a big payday in free agency though? Judging by the activity this past off-season, likely not. It also will not help the Illinois product being likely viewed by many organizations as damaged goods because of his knee injury either. Will a team still be willing to pay him though more than what the Steelers likely will offer? I think so, mostly because of his low mileage I discussed earlier.
Whether or not Mendenhall returns to the Steelers in 2013 depends all on the attention he gets in free agency. I am not willing to 100% say he could not return on a one or two year deal for near the minimum, but I really do not like odds this far out of it happening.
Happy birthday, Rashard, and make sure that wish is a good one when you blow out those candles. I would wish for a warm reception in free agency next off-season if I were you.