Will Rashard Mendenhall's Injury End His Career with Pittsburgh Steelers?

Nick SignorelliSenior Writer IJanuary 2, 2012

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 24:  Rashard Mendenhall #34 of the Pittsburgh Steelers carries the ball against the St. Louis Rams during the game on December 24, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The Steelers won 27-0.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Prior to the start of the 2011 NFL season, there was much debate over the value of running back Rashard Mendenhall to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It was a fumble by Mendenhall in Super Bowl XLV that most people point to as the reason the Steelers now have six Lombardi Trophies instead of seven.

In the 2011 NFL Draft, the Steelers selected a running back named Baron Batch in the seventh round out of Texas Tech.

If that was not bad enough, remarks made by Mendenhall after the death of Osama Bin Laden caused many members of Steelers Nation to believe it was time for the Black and Gold to show Mendenhall his walking papers.

After an amazing training camp, Batch looked to be a player who could not only make the Steelers roster, but take playing time from Mendenhall. A torn ACL for Batch prior to the end of preseason caused the Steelers to put him on IR, ending any speculation that Mendenehall would be cut.

Even during this regular season, it was hard to distinguish Mendenhall from his backups. Isaac Redman had earned at least a drive or two per half, in addition to his short yardage duties. Jonathan Dwyer showed he was capable of carrying the ball, but ended up on IR himself.

Even undrafted rookie John Clay has shown the ability to carry the ball.

All of that would have mattered a lot more after this season if Mendenhall would have stayed healthy. With the knee injury that was suffered against the Cleveland Browns, Mendenhall may have played his last game with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

For starters, torn ACLs are worse for running backs than any other position. Yes, it hurts any player, but for one that makes his living needing to make cuts, it could be a career killer. Look at Terrell Davis.

It is safe to assume that if Mendenhall does have a torn ACL, the he will not play the 2012 season anywhere NEAR the level he did this year. Not that he was even that great this year—928 yards in 16 games is not the production you want out of your featured back.

Mendenhall will also be entering the final year of his rookie contract next year. That would mean if the Steelers were thinking about re-signing him, there is no chance of that happening to this point. Even if he were healthy, the Steelers would never be paying him top running back money.

Many Steelers fans want to see what Redman could do if given the chance, but he fumbled twice against the Browns in the fourth quarter Sunday. Though he will get the chance to redeem himself against the Broncos, he will be on a short leash with Mike Tomlin.

Clay will also get some carries, probably in the short yardage situations, and occasionally go give Redman a rest. If Mewelde Moore can return from his injury, he could be a spark that the Steelers could use in the playoffs.

The real question will come in the 2012 offseason. The Steelers will enter 2012 with Redman, Clay, Batch, Dwyer, Moore and probably a selection from the top three rounds of the draft fighting for the four roster spots that go to running backs.

Will Mendenhall be healthy enough for one of those roster spots? Will the Steelers want to give him one? There is reasonable depth in the Steelers' backfield heading into next season. With all that has happened in the past, has Mendenhall played his last game for the Steelers?