Don\’t Be Surprised If Rashard Mendenhall Is Traded When Free Agency Opens

Let me start off by saying this post is mere speculation and not an attempt to take a jab at Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall and his Twitter comments regarding Osama bin Laden and the events of 911. This post moves past those remarks and deals with how Art Rooney II and the Steelers organization might deal with Mendenhall and his remarks regardless of how you or I feel about them.

The Steelers organization hates to be viewed in a negative light and they try their best not to be cast in a negative spot light. In short, they want to be known as a class organization. While Mendenhall certainly is protected by his first amendment rights, it does not mean his employer, the Steelers, have to agree with his view points and it is very obvious that they don\’t. They have the right to bench, release or trade Mendenhall should they choose to and do not have to give an explanation of why, should they do any of the three.

While I do not think they will release Mendenhall, I can not rule out the possibility of them trading him, if and when free agency opens. It would not surprise me if they did. Mendenhall will turn 24 in June and is about to enter his 4th year of his 5 year rookie contract. He missed the bulk of his rookie season after injuring his shoulder against the Ravens and has only logged 585 regular season carries since being drafted by the Steelers in the first round of the 2008 draft. As you can see, he does not have a ton of wear on his tires and holds quite a bit a value as a running back in the NFL.

Behind Mendenhall on the depth chart sits running back Isaac Redman who had a great season in 2010 in limited use. Redman logged just 52 regular season carries in 2010 for 247 yards that equates to a healthy 4.8 yards per carry. In addition Redman showed that he had increased his conditioning as well as his penchant to pick up the blitz when needed. He also chipped in 9 catches for 72 yards and one of those catches was a game winning touchdown against the Ravens in week 13. The undrafted free agent out of Bowie State already figures to see a little increase in work in 2011 and he could probably start for several other teams around the league including the Steelers.

Also on the roster is 2010 6th round draft pick Jonathan Dwyer. Dwyer looked fantastic carrying the football during the 2010 pre season, but looked lost in his in-game recognition and blitz pickup. This likely was a result of missing quite a bit of reps during training camp with a hamstring injury. His conditioning and knowledge of the game are the two biggest areas he needs to improve in during his second training camp before he will be trusted with any meaningful playing time.

Behind Redman and Dwyer now sits 2011 7th round draft pick Baron Batch. Batch is regarded as a change of pace, 3rd down back that is excellent out of the backfield as a pass catcher and has shown the ability to recognize and pick up the blitz while in college. The Steelers are hoping that it carries over to the next level so he can fill the spot on the roster previously held by unrestricted free agent Mewelde Moore. Moore also has an outside shot of being brought back in addition.

Back to the Mendenhall situation now. Despite the Steelers drafting two cornerbacks last weekend in the draft, they still need quite a bit of grooming and the longer the lockout drags on, the longer it will take for them to be more than just special team contributors. The Steelers still need to find a way to re-sign unrestricted free agent cornerback Ike Taylor or sign a veteran free agent corner as a one or two year fix. If they were to trade Mendenhall, they would free up nearly 2 million dollars in salary in 2011 that they could indeed throw Taylor\’s way. They also could trade Mendenhall for a veteran corner and likely a 4th round draft pick or later in addition if Taylor is not re-signed. It is not out of the question.

The Steelers gave away wide receiver Santonio Holmes last offseason to the Jets and did not get much in return mostly because of his pending four game suspension for violating the league\’s substance-abuse policy. That severely drove his price down. Even though Mendenhall is all over the news right now for his comments, he has never been arrested and did not break any laws by speaking his mind. He is not damaged goods and still has very high trade value to teams that might need a quality starting running back. The Steelers will not just give him away like they did with Holmes.

The Steelers will not release Mendenhall and that is just silly to suggest. If he is not traded though, he could be benched for a quarter or even a whole game to start the 2011 season. Head coach Mike Tomlin has benched him before back in October of 2009 for not having a good week of practice and not being on his details in preparation for the game against the Bengals, so you can\’t rule that out as a possibility. They could also just turn their collective heads and just continue business as usual, but I am willing to bet there is some sort of backlash for his recent remarks.

Mendenhall regards himself as a thinker. I am a thinker too and admittedly not always a smart one at that, but I think indeed there is a strong chance that Mendenhall could be traded before the start of the season and it would not surprise me one bit and it should not surprise you either if it happens.

Don\’t you just love the Steelers offseasons? There is always something to talk about and speculate year round. Sometimes I wish there wasn\’t.

What do you think? Leave your comments below.