Mendenhall not 'shutting any doors' with Steelers, claims agent
The Steelers may not have enough room within their tight salary cap to entice Rashard Mendenhall to forgo free agency and return to the team.
Or the Steelers may not even be interested in having the disgruntled former first-round pick return, especially after he skipped a late-season game that led to a one-game suspension, a move that general manager Kevin Colbert ultimately called “unacceptable.”
Regardless of what happened in the final month of the season, Mendenhall isn't about to cross off the Steelers as a possible destination when free agency begins in mid-March.
“I don't know if he is going to return to Pittsburgh or not,” Mendenhall's agent, Mike McCartney, said Friday. “But we certainly aren't shutting any doors here. We would be crazy to do something like that. Pittsburgh is the flagship organization of the NFL, so we aren't shutting any doors here.”
The Steelers may not be willing to hold the door open for Mendenhall.
Steelers president Art Rooney II said earlier this month he was disappointed with his team's ability to run the ball.
“The season Rashard had wasn't what we would have hoped for,” Rooney II said. “In this offseason, (the running games is) something we've got to look at and decide how we get better and who we get better with.”
The Steelers have three running backs on the roster: Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman are restricted free agents, and Baron Batch.
McCartney said he doesn't know which direction the Steelers are leaning. He hasn't talked to anybody within the organization, which is not unusual for this time of the season.
“With free agency starting March 12, nobody is in a hurry,” McCartney said.
One certainty is that Mendenhall will test the free-agent market even if the Steelers approach him with an offer before then.
“It is important for guys to at least consider their options and listen,” McCartney said. “It doesn't mean he is leaving or doesn't mean he's not.”
McCartney doesn't believe Mendenhall's suspension will hurt his value on the open market — or even with the Steelers.
McCartney said Mendenhall had a “heart-to-heart” talk with coach Mike Tomlin following the suspension and that Mendenhall was led to believe he was welcomed.
“I know when I talked to Rashard, there are no hard feelings at all about what went down,” McCartney said. “He took his medicine and finished strong in practice the last couple weeks. I asked him if he felt like the locker room was different (toward him) and he said no. I really don't think that is going to play a role. It happened, and he manned up and dealt with it.”
Mendenhall missed three games recovering from offseason ACL surgery and four more with a sore Achilles. Throw in two games in which he was inactive and one in which he was suspended and Mendenhall finished the season with half as many fumbles (three) as games played (six).
After finally getting healthy, Mendenhall was inactive after fumbling twice within four carries against Cleveland. It was just his 11th fumble in 1,006 career touches. He finished the season with 182 yards on 51 carries.
“For NFL teams to get a true evaluation of Rashard, they have to look at the 2011 tape,” McCartney said. “In 2012, he wasn't quite all there.”