A blog post by Ed Bouchette on Monday, that focused on Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall, sent shock waves through Steeler Nation as well as the national media. It really shouldn\’t have though as it really wasn\’t new news. In his post Bouchette stated that it’s possible that Mendenhall, who tore his right ACL in the regular season finale against the Cleveland Browns, may have had his last carry with the Steelers. That indeed is very possible and has been since Mendenhall suffered the injury.
General Manager Kevin Colbert has left that possibility open in several interviews that he conducted leading up to the NFL combine and was quoted as saying, “I never feel good about an ACL until a year. I’m not a doctor, but that\’s my mindset. If he gets back before that, to me it\’s a bonus.” Colbert also has said he fully expects Mendenhall to start the season on the PUP (physically unable to perform list). When you get the hacks like Jamison Hensley from ESPN.com, who picked this up as new news because he does not pay close attention to the Steelers situation on a day to day basis, you get the mass hysteria that you had today. If you think that this is a shot at Hensley, you guessed right. He is the worst ESPN.com has to offer and it has nothing to do with him being the former beat writer for the Baltimore Ravens. I don\’t take shots at major media often, but this one is worthy.
Back to Mendenhall now. He is entering the final year of his rookie contract that will pay him a base salary of over $2 million and he will be an unrestricted free agent after the upcoming season. Should he start the year on the reserve PUP list, which I have stated long ago that I think he will; he will miss a minimum of six weeks to start the season, per the PUP rules. After week 6 a three week window opens up that allows Mendenhall to return to practice without counting against the Steelers 53 man roster. Once he begins practicing, a second three week window opens and Mendenhall must be activated to the 53 man roster during those three weeks, placed on injured reserve or released. So this could run all the way until week 13 at the latest.
The thing you have to keep in mind is that even while Mendenhall is on PUP and not on the 53 man roster, he still counts against the salary cap, just like players who are on injured reserve. The beauty of the PUP list is it allows you time to rehab a player without being forced to place him on injured reserve at the start at of the season. It should also be noted that players must start training camp on the ACTIVE PUP list to be eligible for the in-season RESERVE PUP list.
Now Colbert also said back in mid February that Mendenhall had not suffered a setback, and keep in mind that he did not have his surgery until the middle of January. Even if he were to have a very fast recovery time of say 7 months, that would put him returning in mid August. A more believable, albeit still not 100%, recovery time would be 9 months and that would put him being ready for action in mid October, which would be close to the 6 week mark of the PUP rules. I think that an even more realistic return would be around week 8 or 9 however, and like Colbert said, I would not expect him to be back to 100% until late in the season.
The last thing the Steelers will want to do is to rush him back and running the chance that he suffers a setback and winds up on injured reserve. You have to wonder if it is worth it to them to carry Mendenhall and his near $3.5 million plus cap hit for half a season, or even longer. That is why I have stated in the past that I would not be totally surprised if he was released prior to the start of the season if they indeed thought he would miss more than half of it. I previously posted about the injury benefit clause in the CBA, and if my research and understanding of it is correct, there is no injury grievance there and only a benefit of $1 million that Mendenhall could collect and I do not believe that is charged against the cap. I have yet to be told otherwise since that post and if you believe that to be incorrect, let me hear your argument.
So if Mendenhall were to be released prior to the start of the season, and he could only collect that $1 million benefit that would not be charged against the cap, then the Steelers would save his base salary of over $2 million against the 2012 cap and would incur a dead money charge of $1.1025 million. Now of course if he is grievance worthy and if I am wrong in stating that the injury benefit does not count against the cap, then it will not be worth cutting him and they should just ride him on PUP as long as they can.
So what about his future past this season you ask? He will be an unrestricted free agent if he stays on the roster all season and there is no way that he would get the franchise tag next year. There is also no way that he would get a big contract offer either coming off an ACL injury. He most likely, as I stated before, would much rather test the free agency waters first. So what do the Steelers really lose should they need to cut him prior to the start of the season if he is going to leave following the season? Once again let me state that this assumes he will miss at least 9 weeks or more of the season. The Steelers could certainly use that $2 million in cap space if that indeed wound up being the case.
So to wrap this up and go full circle, when Bouchette stated that Mendenhall may have had his last carry with the Steelers, it is indeed a possibility, but this possibility is one that has been in existence since he tore his ACL. It is not new news and unfortunately it is being treated as such.