The Pittsburgh Steelers finally said something correct yesterday and even in that statement there are still questions. Steelers’ General Manager Kevin Colbert said yesterday that the team already has plans to put injured running back Rashard Mendenhall on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list at the beginning of the 2012 season. Mendenhall suffered an ACL tear in the regular season finale in Cleveland and will require at least six to eight months rehab if not longer.
The other issue facing Colbert and the Steelers is the fact that Mendenhall becomes a free agent after the 2012 season. Running backs with ACL surgery on their resume are not exactly going to earn top dollar. In fact if you look at the history of backs coming off of ACL surgery you’ll find most dropped off pretty significantly in the years following their surgery.
Guys like Deuce McAllister and Terrell Davis had significant drop-offs in production while a player like Jamal Lewis actually was able to perform at a higher level. The biggest difference appears to be age. Lewis was just 21 while McAllister and Davis were in their mid-to-late 20’s. Mendenhall is currently 24 so perhaps that will help. Either way, Steelers’ fans should not expect to see Mendenhall at 100% in the 2012 season.
At the running back position, the Steelers are in a slightly precarious position. Isaac Redman has proven to be an effective back-up and short yardage guy who will be the front-runner to spell Mendenhall. Redman’s 121 yard performance in the team’s playoff loss to Denver has many speculating that Redman is exactly the guy the Steelers need. Can he handle the load of a 16-game schedule is the question?
Somewhat unproven John Clay and Jonathan Dwyer will be given opportunities to see time as well as 2011 7th round draft pick Baron Batch who blew out his own ACL in training camp. Most expect veteran Mewelde Moore to move on.
Even though the NFL has become a ‘passing fancy,’ good running backs are still crucial to an offense’s success. While Mendenhall has been a lightning rod for the Steelers both on and off (see tweets about Osama bin Laden’s death) the field, this injury potentially makes the decision of re-signing him easier.
Whether Mendenhall is out for half the season or all of it will remain a mystery and will largely depend on his rehab progress. Either way I’m not convinced he’ll be back in 2013 as the Steelers will have had a season of new offensive coordinator Todd Haley under their belts.