Going into the 2012 season running back Rashard Mendenhall was at a crossroads in his young career. After four seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, three of which had been very successful, he was entering an awkward situation. He was entering the final year of his contract and coming off a serious knee injury. In the season where players earn that second contract, Mendenhall was just trying to get well.
By the middle of the 2012 season, it was pretty clear that his future did not lie with the Steelers. He was still struggling to show he was healthy and their running game had moved forward. It essentially came down to a wait for Mendenhall — wait for the end of the season and wait to see which new team would sign him.
That new team is the Arizona Cardinals. This shouldn’t shock anyone as Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt is a former offensive coordinator for the Steelers and has signed former players from there before. Some have joked that it’s a retirement community in the west for former Steelers.
But the big point is this: Mendenhall can play. When he’s healthy and motivated, Mendenhall is a top-ten back in this league. In a zone blocking scheme where he makes one cut and go, his explosion and breakaway speed make him a threat to score on every play. He’s also an excellent receiver out of the backfield and a more-than-adequate pass protector.
Assuming he is healthy finally after his knee injury, Mendenhall could be the steal of this free agent period. You can bet after the way the season ended he has a chip on his shoulder and something to prove when the Steelers gave up on him.