Rashard Mendenhall Will Retire After 6-Year NFL Career

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistMarch 8, 2014

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Rashard Mendenhall reportedly will retire.

ESPN's Adam Schefter was first to report the 26-year-old running back, who's an unrestricted free agent, is telling potential suitors that he's done in the NFL:

Writing for the Huffington Post, Mendenhall dropped a big hint that he was walking away from the league:

That day I sat on my couch two years ago was the very next day after I tore my ACL in week 17. The journey I envisioned is the two years of rebuilding that would follow. And as I write this, today is the day that the journey is over and I am fully at peace. Eagerly looking to a new way, which lies ahead.

Once the article was published, he asked his Twitter followers to "tell me what you think it means":

Mendenhall later returned to the Huffington Post to explain his decision to retire, telling fans what his plans were after football:

So when they ask me why I want to leave the NFL at the age of 26, I tell them that I've greatly enjoyed my time, but I no longer wish to put my body at risk for the sake of entertainment. I think about the rest of my life and I want to live it with much quality. And physically, I am grateful that I can walk away feeling as good as I did when I stepped into it.

As for the question of what will I do now, with an entire life in front of me? I say to that, I will LIVE! I plan to live in a way that I never have before, and that is freely, able to fully be me, without the expectation of representing any league, club, shield or city. I do have a plan going forward, but I will admit that I do not know how things will totally shape out. That is the beauty of it! I look forward to chasing my desires and passions without restriction, and to sharing them with anyone who wants to come along with me! And I'll start with writing!

During his six years with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals, Mendenhall rushed for 4,236 yards and 37 touchdowns. He eclipsed 1,000 yards twice with the Steelers (2009, 2010).

On one hand, it would seem a bit odd that Mendenhall would retire now. He rushed for 687 yards and eight touchdowns with the Cardinals last season. Although it's unlikely a team would offer him a starting role at this stage of his career, the former first-round draft pick could certainly find a job for 2014 if he wanted.

Perhaps playing into his decision to retire is the fact that he's battled his share of injuries during his relatively short time in the league. In his rookie season in 2008, Mendenhall fractured his shoulder. Then he tore his ACL in January 2012.

Amy Sancetta/Associated Press

Mendenhall caused some controversy in May 2011 after reacting to Osama bin Laden's death, tweeting, "What kind of person celebrates death? It's amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We've only heard one side...," per ESPN

He clarified his tweets, adding, "I apologize for the timing as such a sensitive matter, but it was not meant to do harm. I apologize to anyone I unintentionally harmed with anything that I said, or any hurtful interpretation that was made and put in my name."

Although he's walking away from the game at a young age, running backs have notoriously short shelf lives. So many of his predecessors played one season too many and damaged their bodies and reputations as a result. 

That said, if the right offer comes along, maybe Mendenhall changes his mind. At 26 years old, he still has some years left in the tank.