ProFootballTalk is reporting that the Pittsburgh Steelers may cut ties with starting running back Rashard Mendenhall. Actually, this news is being reported by Ed Bouchette of the Post-Gazette but unless you have a puppy in need of paper training you’re unable to read this information since they’ve chosen to put it behind their insipid pay wall. Please allow me to save you that $3.99 so you can spend it on a more worthy item, such as a triple cinnamon dulce non-fat latte at Starbucks or a pack of Big Red.
To recap what we already know, Mendy tore his ACL in the season finale against Cleveland. Steelers GM Kevin Colbert, making the rounds of the local talk shows, has said an ACL tear takes about a year to heal. While a player may physically return to the field sooner, it is his opinion (and mine) that a player doesn’t begin to approach their old form until at least a full year has passed. Keeping this in mind, most had assumed Mendenhall would begin the 2012 season on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list with the team having the option to activate him later in the campaign. Now it seems the injury was either more serious than originally thought or Mendy’s rehab is progressing slower than expected because Uncle Eddy is hearing from inside sources that we may have seen his last carry in the Black and Gold.
I’m not terribly surprised. Running backs are like racehorses. When a racehorse breaks his leg, they have to put him to sleep. When a running back pulls up lame, his career is over. Oh, they may come back and they may even still have a few semi-productive seasons but once a RB blows out a tire, they’ll never be the same player again. What I’m saying is, if you have the second pick in your fantasy football draft, stay the hell away from Adrian Peterson.
Considering Mendy wasn’t any great shakes before tearing his ACL, I can’t imagine he’ll blossom into an elite back in 2013. The only thing that separated Mendenhall from undrafted free agent Isaac Redman was his big play break-away speed. If his ACL costs even .1 second on his 40 time, that advantage is basically gone. And as we’ve seen time and time again, he’s too soft either mentally or physically (or both) to be a tough yardage lower-your-shoulder grinder.
I’m not sure what the rules are for cutting an injured player but I wouldn’t be shocked if the Steelers released him before training camp. He’s due to be a free agent after this season and if Pittsburgh doesn’t see him in their future plans, it’d be best to move on now instead of waiting until 2013. The Steelers currently have about $5 million in cap space which I’m calling their “Keep Your Damn Hands Off Mike Wallace” Money. Until the Wallace situation is settled, they’ll probably keep that cash on hand in case they have to match an offer for him.
After that, they can address their running back situation through either free agency or the draft. Michael Bush remains the most attractive free agent on the market although he probably wants a multi-year contract in the $2-3 million range. The Steelers would have to cut Mendy before signing him as there’s no way they can justify having two $2 million plus backs on the roster. More likely, there are a number of lower tier free agents that they can bring in on a one year veteran minimum type deal. Benjarvus Green-Ellis is the most attractive name of that group although I wouldn’t count out a lesser name like Kevin Smith or Justin Forsett.
Or the Steelers can do what they usually do, build through the draft. The true indication of where they feel their running situation is at will reveal itself through Mel Kiper’s hair. If they take a back in rounds 1-3, that’s their future starter. If they pick another late round back to join Barron Batch, Jon Dwyer and the long gone Frank “The Tank” Summers, they’re just looking for a guy to carry the ball once or twice a season.
One thing to look out for is if Wallace goes to a team like the Bengals (who have two first rounders and tons of cap space) or the Broncos (who need to find some weapons for Peyton Manning), I wouldn’t be surprised if they spent that extra first rounder on a back. Miami’s Lamar Miller blew up the Combine running a blazing 4.4 40 and is almost unanimously considered the #2 back in the draft after projected top five pick Trent Richardson. If the Steelers have only their own first rounder, I can’t see them going after a back when they have glaring needs at ILB, CB and OL but with two first rounders, Miller would be a luxury they could afford. Unless he does something stupid like get busted for disorderly conducted a couple weeks before the draft, I don’t see Miller falling to the Steelers in the 2nd round.