Why Rashard Mendenhall's Suspension Will Be His Last Act With the Steelers

Zach Kruse@@zachkruse2Senior Analyst IApril 6, 2017

Oct 7, 2012; Pittsburgh , PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall (34) runs the ball past Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Justin Babin (93) during the first half of the game at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

Rashard Mendenhall may have played his last game with the Pittsburgh Steelers

Inactive in Week 14, suspended for Week 15 and an unrestricted free agent this offseason, Mendenhall might be out of chances to continue his NFL career in Pittsburgh. 

Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Tuesday night that the Steelers were suspending Mendenhall for Sunday's game with the Dallas Cowboys. The discipline comes after Mendenhall did not attend last week's contest, a game he knew beforehand that he would be inactive for. 

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has learned that Mendenhall did not show up for last Sunday's game at Heinz Field against the San Diego Chargers after his coaches told him he would not be active for the game. Even though they cannot play, inactive players on the Steelers usually join the team on the sideline unless injuries prevent them, although not in uniform.

With just three weeks left in the season, the possibility remains that Mendenhall will not play again in 2012. The Steelers appear more than comfortable rolling with starter Jonathan Dwyer, veteran Isaac Redman and shifty, change-of-pace back Chris Rainey at running back. 

Even before the suspension, Mendenhall was a healthy scratch for Pittsburgh's loss to the San Diego Chargers last Sunday. In fact, he's been inactive in each of the two games since he lost his starting job. 

Mendenhall now faces a long stretch between now and the start of the free-agent signing period. However, that might not be all she wrote for this story.

Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL.com reported (via Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com) that Mendenhall feels the suspension has allowed for a "positive" turn in the two sides' relationship. 

Kinkhabwala reports, citing a source close to the player, that the suspension led to "a lot of positive conversation" between the Steelers and Mendenhall, and he now believes he will be a factor down the stretch.

Given that the source is someone close to Mendenhall, the report must be taken with a grain of salt. While suspensions can occasionally lead to a turnaround from a player, this situation is different. 

Not only has Mendenhall not been a part of the Steelers' plans lately, but his free-agent status opens the door for a quiet parting of ways this coming spring. 

Despite drafting Mendenhall in the first round in 2008, the Steelers do not seem likely to want Mendenhall back after a shaky 2012 season. 

Unable to play for the first month while he recovered from ACL surgery, Mendenhall hurt his Achilles' after two games and had to miss another month. He returned against Baltimore on Nov. 18, but two fumbles against the Cleveland Browns a week later led to his demotion to third string. 

Dwyer, a 23-year-old back, has started the last two games and now appears entrenched as the Steelers' go-to player in the backfield. Redman is a short-yardage option who can also contribute on third downs. 

Rainey, a gadget-type back, has world-class speed and adds another element.

The Steelers also signed Baron Batch from the practice squad to fill in as the fourth running back. 

There's a possibility that Pittsburgh could go into next season with those four players at running back. Mendenhall doesn't appear to have a role in either scenario. 

Situations like these can change at the drop of a hat, but the writing is on the wall for Mendenhall not playing another game for the Pittsburgh Steelers.