Mark Kaboly | Tribune-Review
How Rashard Mendenhall’s knee holds up over the final 10 games of the season might go as far as determining how much the Steelers’ running back is going to be worth on the open market next year.
How Jonathan Dwyer performs over the final 10 games of the season might go a long way in determining if the Steelers will be one of those teams willing to throw money at Mendenhall.
Mendenhall is in the final year of his rookie contract that will pay him approximately $2 million this year – a number that could rise significantly next year if the former first-round pick gets back to the form of 2009-10 when he rushed for 2,400 yards and 20 touchdowns.
The organization decided against renegotiating a new deal during the summer because of the uncertainty of the health of his surgically repaired knee. The Steelers had plans of seeing how Mendenhall got through the season before making a decision if they wanted pursue bringing him back.
Dwyer just might be making that decision for the Steelers.
Dwyer will be a restricted free agent next year, and if he continues to play like he did against the Bengals (122 yards), the Steelers might be more willing to let Mendenhall walk regardless of the health of his knee.
The Steelers are already being projected to be as much as $15 million over the salary cap next year and will be looking to pinch some pennies. Mendenhall could be where they start.
Mendenhall will be 26 at the start of next year and will have close to a 1,000 career carries if comes back and does anything this year (otherwise the Steelers probably wouldn’t want him anyways.)
That’s a lot of wear and tear on a body in a short period of time.
Dwyer will be 24 at the start of the season next year and will hard-pressed to have 100 career carries by then. Combined with other youngster in Isaac Redman, Baron Batch and Chris Rainey and the Steelers could have a core group in place for some time.
Now, a lot can happen from now until March, but if Dwyer continues to get opportunities and continues to improve like he has, he very well could be, unbeknownst to him, shoving Mendenhall out the door.