Arizona Cardinals running back Rashard Mendenhall will retire. Yes, at the tender age of 26. How’s that for a surprise to kick off NFL free agency?
UPDATE: Rashard Mendenhall explains his retirement decision to HuffPo
ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter first reported this development. Mendenhall battled turf toe for much last season. When he finally got to be 100%, Mendenhall scored five touchdowns in his final eight games. Rashard Mendenhall was “kind of a big deal” coming out of Niles West high school. As a five-star prospect, he was rated the No. 1 recruit in the state of Illinois by Scout.com. He committed to Ron Turner and the Illini where re-wrote the Illinois single season rushing record book.
Taken 23rd in the 2008 NFL Draft, it took him a year, but he usurped Willie Parker as starting tailback in 2009. He began living up to the lofty expectations he had as a first round pick. The Skokie native ran for 1,100+ yards on a 4.6 ypc average, but his team struggled immensely. The following year, the Steelers flourished as he ran for almost 1,300 yards, albeit on a less-than-impressive 3.9 ypc.
Rashard Mendenhall overcame the fumbling problems he had his rookie year (the same main issue that troubled him his first two years in Champaign) to become that dominant back.
Despite reuniting with Bruce Arians in Arizona, the Coach in Pittsburgh who helped facilitate his talents, Mendenhall never re-captured that production in the desert. Mikel LeShoure, now with the Detroit Lions, succeeded Mendenhall at Illinois, stepping into his #5 jersey, and the starting tailback spot. LeShoure broke all the Illini rushing records set by Rashard Mendenhall.
In September 2008, Mendenhall became the first professional athlete to sign an endorsement deal with Champion brand sportswear in ten years. Of course, he lost that endorsement when he made a series of bizarre 9/11 Truther sounding tweets when Osama Bin Laden was assassinated. Mendenhall’s public statements made him look like a Bin Laden apologist, and the Steelers had to do extensive damage control on Rashard Mendenhall’s polarizing public statements.
That specific social media controversy off the field overshadows his legacy on it; as unfortunate as that may seem.
Paul M. Banks owns The Sports Bank.net, an affiliate of Fox Sports. An MBA and Fulbright scholar, he’s also a frequent analyst on news talk radio; with regular segments on ESPN,NBC, CBS and Fox. A former NBC Chicago and Washington Times writer, he’s also been featured on the History Channel. President Obama follows him on Twitter (@paulmbanks)Follow paulmbanks