Jun. 11, 2013; Glendale, AZ, USA: Arizona Cardinals running back Rashard Mendenhall during mini camp at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Battle of the Birds: Was the Rashard Mendenhall Signing a Good One?

The Arizona Cardinals made lots of moves this offseason, and that included the signing of Rashard Mendenhall.

Mendenhall has amassed 1,000 rushing yards twice, and he has been dominant when not being hampered by injuries. Injuries have caught up to Mendenhall, but he has shown flashes of dominance. Can he continue to put up good numbers in Arizona?

Here at Raising Zona, we’re going to be introducing some debates. Two writers will go head-to-head and share their thoughts about the topic, and we’ll call it “Battle of the Birds.”

In the first of our debates, Matthew Gay and Rich Cantrell will debate whether the acquisition was a good one. Please show us what you think by commenting!

Matthew Gay

Rashard Mendenhall was acquired in March to replace Chris “Beanie” Wells to ensure depth at the vital running back position.  Although the Cardinals won a mini-lottery when Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington fell to them in this year’s draft, Mendenhall is a young and proven veteran who has rare skills.

He is noted as a every-down back who has mass to fray defenders off him yet quick feet to maneuver away. In addition, he has experience under head coach Bruce Arians (who was Pittsburgh’s offensive coordinator).

I’ll admit that I saw him as an older-injury prone back when I first heard of his signing. However, upon further research, I learned he is young with the same ability that made him a coveted pick and utilized weapon in Pittsburgh.

Rashard Mendenhall was acquired in March to replace Chris “Beanie” Wells to ensure depth at the vital running back position. Although the Cardinals won a mini-lottery when Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington fell to them in this year’s draft, Mendenhall is a young and proven veteran who has rare skills. He is noted as a every-down back that has mass to fray defenders off him yet quick feet to maneuver away.

In addition, he has experience under head coach Bruce Arians (who was Pittsburgh’s offensive coordinator when Rashard had his most successful years). I’ll admit that I saw him as an older-injury prone back when I first heard of his signing. However, upon further research, I learned he is young with the same ability that made him a coveted pick and utilized weapon in Pittsburgh.

Mendenhall is a 26 year old former first round pick who had 2008 off due to a fractured shoulder when he decided to run up-right against Ray Lewis. Rookie. Bounced back to have 3 stellar seasons and finally had last season off due to an injured knee and rumored dis-content with new offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Mendenhall comes to us with a lot of “tread on the tires”, a possible chip on the shoulder and a low cap hit of at least 1.5 million.

The Cardinals gave him a million dollars in incentives to help motivate his production. In summary we obtained a proven-young back who hasn’t been in the NFL long enough to hit his ceiling which is still high, at a low price. Coach Bruce Arians will end my stance with his quote from June 19; “He took me personally to a Super Bowl, and I know what he can bring to the table as a runner and a pass protector and also a receiver. He’s an every-down player, and I think he’s looking forward to having an outstanding season.”

That’s right; he carried a team to the super bowl a few years ago.

Rich Cantrell

One of the worst free agents the Arizona Cardinals have signed this offseason is Rashard Mendenhall. Not because he is a bad football player, but because his addition to the Cardinals may not be good for the growth of the young Cardinal running backs. Mendenhall signed a one-year deal for 3.5 million dollars with the Cardinals in the offseason.

He is familiar with coach Bruce Arians and his offense as they were in Pittsburgh together as recently as 2011. So familiar, that Arians recently announced Mendenhall as the starter going into training camp.

The addition of Mendenhall is bad as it may take away valuable playing time from the Cardinals young running backs: Ryan Williams, Stepfan Taylor, and Andre Ellington. At 26 years old it would be a stretch to say Mendenhall is old, but four years of being the featured running back for the Steelers may have come at a price.

In January 2012, Mendenhall tore his ACL and has not since displayed the initial burst or lateral agility in the six games he played last year. His motivation was questioned last year as well and he was even suspended for a game because he chose to not attend a game against the San Diego Chargers.

He was a healthy scratch due to inconsistent play. Ryan Williams possesses the talent to be a featured back in the Cardinals offense. Williams is three years younger than Mendenhall and is further removed from his own knee injury that occurred at Cardinals training camp in 2011. Williams displayed the same acceleration and burst last year, but his season was cut short by a shoulder injury.

Handing the starting job to Mendenhall only stunts Williams’ growth and doesn’t maximize his potential. In last April’s NFL draft, rookies Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington were drafted to add depth. Taylor could be a starter someday, but would fit perfectly as a goal line back.

Ellington is known as a good blocker and receiver which makes him an ideal third down back. Singing Mendenhall only pushes these two talented runners down on the depth chart. It is natural for coach Arians to put players he knows and trusts in his offense to insure its success.

Mendenhall’s knowledge of the offense and blocking ability looks to be the reason he was signed. Signing a health risk, that has an attitude problem, is a chance the Cardinals did not need to take and may cost them the development of their young running backs.

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