Will the Arizona Cardinals keep Rashard Mendenhall as a running back? That is the biggest question heading into our continued look at the roster for the Cardinals and possible moves for each player.
First, let’s review the situation.
Mendenhall is going to be an unrestricted free agent. Andre Ellington (salary $520,966)is the second back on the depth chart. Stepfan Taylor ($545,125 salary, $150,000 dead money if cut) got few carries and Ryan Williams (salary $1,593,724; dead money $1,120,000 if cut) is a real wildcard in this picture.
Mendenhall and Ellington split carries but got very different results. Let’s look at the performance of the players.
Mendenhall had 217 carries for 687 yards and eight touchdowns. Ellington finished with 652 yards and three touchdowns on 118 carries. Mendenhall also made five times the salary Ellington did this past season.
I look at it this way. There was another running back in the league with exactly 217 carries this season but he finished the year with 1124 yards and nine touchdowns. Who was that? DeMarco Murray of the Dallas Cowboys is who. The point is that Mendenhall gets the chances but doesn’t produce the kind of numbers that you expect out of a lead back. Looking deeper at the stats, he had only one run of more than 20 yards this season. He also finished with the lowest yards per carry average (3.2) of any player with at least 200 carries in the league this season.
Basically, he was Trent Richardson in a Cardinals’ helmet.
Mendenhall is nothing more than a goal-line back. He lacks the explosiveness to spark the running game and most of his touchdowns were short runs set up by defensive plays or penalties. It’s not worth spending that kind of money that he got last season ($2.2 million) for a guy who can move the ball as poorly as he did. Even a guy like Mike Tolbert of Carolina would be a better fit since he’s more aggressive around the goal line.
Ellington looks like the future of the team at this position. His big key is keeping up the consistency from this solid rookie year to his next one in the league. Ellington is also a much better threat to catch passes than Mendenhall and that makes him that much more valuable.
Taylor only had 36 carries this past season so we need more time to see what he’s really capable of.
Williams is the big X-Factor in this equation. In 2012 he was the RB2 on the team and filled in when Beanie Wells got hurt. Williams suffered a shoulder injury against the Rams and hasn’t played a down since. It seems odd that the Cardinals would keep him on the roster but not activate him for a single game even when Mendenhall and Ellington were going through minor injuries. It’s impossible to tell what Ryan Williams has left in the tank so he needs to get out on the field and show what he has. Releasing him would pile more money into the dead money situation that would really handicap the team when it comes to free agents.
Keep: Ellington, Taylor, Williams
Team need: RB depth, possibly attainable through the draft
Our series resumes on Monday with the $18 million question about Larry Fitzgerald and the rest of the wide receivers.
Check out our review of the quarterback situation here.