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Mendenhall's one touchdown in 2012 was also probably his last as a Steeler.
Pittsburgh’s erstwhile starting running back is definitely out of Pittsburgh at the end of 2012. Despite reports that the team will negotiate with him during the offseason, it would be a shock to see him in black and gold next year.
Though his recent suspension for not showing up for the Steelers’ game against the Chargers sealed his fate, Mendenhall was probably on the chopping block even before that indiscretion. He had already lost the starting job after the Browns game as a result of his struggles with injuries, fumbles and overall productivity. He never won it back, and the team appeared ready to move in a different direction next year even before the recent controversy.
Since injuring his ACL in the last game of the 2011 season, Mendenhall just hasn’t been the same player who was a top-10 back in 2009 and 2010. He has been inconsistent and has spent more time on the sidelines than on the field.
His return to action started well, with 68 rushing yards and a key 15-yard touchdown catch against the Eagles in his first game back.
After that, however, things took a turn for the worse. Mendenhall injured his Achilles in the next game after 17 yards on seven total touches.
He returned against Baltimore in Week 11 but failed to produce. Against Cleveland the next week, he fumbled twice on four carries and found permanent homes on the Steelers' bench and in Tomlin’s doghouse.
For a player with Mendenhall’s resume, there will be surprisingly little outrage over his departure. Throughout his tenure in Pittsburgh, the running back has struggled to connect with fans, teammates and the coaching staff. Mendenhall comes across as something of a talented but moody loner who bristles at the expectations placed on him. When he has opened his mouth, he has often been too candid for his own good.
And that’s why, despite two seasons with more than 1,000 yards rushing and three ranked in the top 10 in touchdowns, he’ll probably be best remembered for his miscues. The key fumble against the Packers in the Super Bowl. The controversial Twitter posts about September 11 and Osama bin Laden. Getting suspended by Tomlin.
The good news for the Steelers is that in the pass-happy modern NFL, running backs have become a pretty fungible commodity. With a good offensive line and a legitimate passing attack, a team doesn’t need a superstar in its backfield. Just someone to keep defenses honest.
If Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman fail to prove themselves during the last few games of this season, picking up a serviceable replacement in free agency or the draft shouldn’t be a big problem.