Rashard Mendenhall is only 25 years old and already has two 1,000-yard seasons under his belt...but he's nothing more than fool's gold when it comes to NFL free agency.
Unfortunately for the former No. 1 running back, he has dealt with several injuries over the last year or so, including a torn ACL at the end of the 2011-12 season, and is now nothing more than a backup running back.
Mendenhall is coming off the most disappointing season of his career after missing 10 games due to injury. He only played in six games and only averaged 30.3 rushing yards per game on 8.5 carries. He never even found the end zone on the ground.
Now that Mendenhall has become a free agent, teams will be wary of his injury-riddled past. He hasn't played a full season since 2010 and has had some serious injuries that could lead to lasting damage.
The question now is whether or not Mendenhall is still worth paying to be a starting running back.
After seeing him come back from injury to play only two games before going down again, it's tough to trust the 25-year-old back. While he has the potential to be a star, he also has the potential to be a huge bust.
Even if Mendenhall does turn out to be a solid starting running back, there is no need to pay him as one. There are so many questions surrounding him and his health that he isn't worth paying like a starter in case he struggles and becomes a backup once more.
When teams are trying to sign Mendenhall, they must not overpay him.
Mendenhall might never get back to his 2010 form, when he rushed for 1,273 yards and 13 touchdowns, and to pay him like you expect him to do so would be foolish.
Teams like the Denver Broncos are very interested (per Denver Post) in the former Pittsburgh Steelers' running back, but might not want to look for a long-term player in Mendenhall.
The level of the Broncos’ interest in Mendenhall is difficult to gauge. They have a menu of 12 to 15 free agent players who they believe could fit their roster under the right circumstances and for the right price. While contacting agents of these free-agent players, the Broncos to date have said little more than they have some interest and they’ll back to them later.
This is the route that teams should take when courting Mendenhall.
If Mendenhall knows that he is a team's first option, then he has leverage when negotiating a contract. However, if teams are vague about where he stands in terms of interest, then the team has the option to pay him like a backup.
However, teams like the Miami Dolphins could make a bad decision and pay starting-running back money for Mendenhall.
According to The Miami Herald's Armando Salguero, the Dolphins are interested in Mendenhall. Since the team appears to be uninterested in signing Reggie Bush again (per AP), Mendenhall would likely come in and start for the team.
But Rashard Mendenhall to the Dolphins?
Well, that's the buzz going around the NFL as voiced most loudly by NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah on his twitter feed over the weekend. Jeremiah, a former NFL scout, obviously has connections around the league so he's as credible as most.
It looks like the Dolphins could very well try to sign Mendenhall as a starter, but that could be a huge mistake, as Salguero notes.
With his injury history, his controversy off the field regarding Sept. 11 and his declining production, Mendenhall doesn't seem to be worth anything more than a backup running back's salary.
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