Mendenhall explains his decision to retire at 26

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After earning $15.1 million through six NFL seasons, running back Rashard Mendenhall has had enough.  He has explained in an item for the Huffington Post his decision to retire at age 26.

Basically, Mendenhall says:  (1) he has done everything he could do in football; (2) football has become more about entertainment than football; and (3) he no longer wishes to put his body at risk for the entertainment of others.

Mendenhall also explains that he has experienced hate and racism, presumably via the Internet.  Possibly in response to his controversial remarks following the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011.

Lost in Mendenhall’s essay is any reference to his actual expected earnings in 2014 or beyond.  At one point he explains that others have asked, “You’re just going to walk away from millions of dollars?”  But it’s unlikely that anyone would have paid him “millions” in 2014.

Last year, Mendenhall was paid $2.5 million by the Cardinals.  Eventually, he was displaced by rookie Andre Ellington.  With a soft market for veteran tailbacks, Mendenhall quite possibly was at the point where, if he found a team, he’d be getting at best the veteran minimum for a player with six years of experience.

It’s probably not a coincidence that Mendenhall’s initial column hinting strongly at retirement came after the Scouting Combine, where his agent would have learned whether and to what extent the Cardinals or another team have interest in employing Mendenhall for another year, or longer.

In the end, that’s the unanswered question.  How much is he really walking away from?  Our guess is that it’s a non-guaranteed base salary $715,000.

While still not easy to walk away from, it’s a lot easier to walk away from than $7.15 million.

95 responses to “Mendenhall explains his decision to retire at 26

  1. so annoying when these guys act like they are Pat Tillman giving up a huge contract and coming off a pro bowl type season. he was basically a finished product in the NFL. wasn’t going to play special teams and was headed towards getting cut by whoever signed him because he isn’t particularly fast, and he fumbles a lot.

  2. I’m almost 10 years older, and I don’t do anything nearly as stressful for my body. If I had career earnings of $15 million, I’d retire, too. I might retire in the next couple of years if I can get a fraction of that.

  3. Even so, I think he may have exceeded the average life (playing) span of an NFL RB.

  4. Cardinals have Ellington, who has fresh legs, was a great late draft pick, and cost a fraction of what Mendenhall was costing. However I do wish Mendhenall the best. He did come to the Cards and was the one who at least got the running game going.

  5. This may be more common over the next decade. As athletes understand the physical toll on the body (and worse perhaps, the mind), you will see insightful young men play through their rookie contracts, get a 3 or 4 year deal for 15-20 million and then hang it up having enough money to comfortably support themselves and their family for the rest of their lives while they find safe satisfying more mundane employment.

  6. I understand his reason for wanting to retire after getting to do so much in the nfl already. Like him, after making $15 million I’d like to be able to walk away from the game rather than limp away from it if it only became about money and I’d lost the passion for it. That said, I hated him as a player, not a person. As a steeler fan watching him every Sunday you could tell he didn’t run with passion. I hated the pick the moment they drafted him, and was so sick of him weighing 230 pounds and refusing to rub hard. Every run was him trying to spin, juke or bounce it outside, and 95% of the time it ended in him falling backward for a 2 yard loss.

  7. Quite often you also hear about players who would sacrifice their bodies for the money that could survive in the family and make family life better.

  8. Not a huge fan of the guy but all the haters need to stop. What he say holds very true of the game today and its coverage. Yes it’s at its most popular point in history. I too miss the days when real men played the game and the only thing that was talked about was how he played not the crap he said on Twitter or how many followers he has or stupid fantasy points he got. Also what’s the point if the back handed comment about what he really would of made? It’s far more than what you would make blogging all year about Arron Hernandez killing and beating up people. Good for you RM and Godspeed

  9. ravens4fr says: Mar 9, 2014 7:39 PM

    He was never the same after Ray Lewis broke Mendenhall’s shoulder – Ray had this effect on players!!

    Exactly. He talked trash, and the GOAT basically ended his career. It took Mendenhall a few years to realize it, but he was done after that hit. The Bin Laden quips didn’t help either.

  10. His heart wouldn’t be in it, and I can admire a guy for walking away cuz of it, instead of pretending he cares, just to get a pay check.

  11. A few years in the real world and he’ll wish he would have come back for the 715 K for another year or two.

  12. good for him, whatever his motivation is. he has earned generational wealth and we have all learned what football can do to a human’s health in both the current and long term. Its a smart decision by a guy who obviously still has the mental capacity to make such decisions. There is no reason to end up as the next Evander Holyfield if you don’t need to.

  13. “if he found a team, he’d be getting at best the veteran minimum for a player with six years of experience.”

    At best? It’s not like he had a chance of signing with a team and making LESS than the min.

    “How much is he really walking away from? Our guess is that it’s a non-guaranteed base salary $715,000.”

    This seems to be implying that he walking away from a career that – without a doubt – would have only lasted another season. The fact is, he’s a 26 year old that has produced at least 7 (and up to 13) touchdowns in all 3 seasons he’s had significant carries. I imagine there would be a place for him somewhere for a few more years…

  14. Actually, 4 seasons. A 26 year old with 4 years of 7+ touchdowns? Yeah, I bet he’d only have been able to make $715,000 the rest of his pro career.

  15. ravens4fr, Lewis breaking his shoulder wasn’t his downfall. He gained about 3300 yards over the next 3 seasons. Him tearing his ACL in 2011 that he never rebounded from.

  16. If you are riding the pine for league minimum, are you really “sacrificing” your body? You work out, scrimmage during the week, and then stand on the sideline. Maybe play a handful of snaps. I’d probably pad the retirement fund a bit more if I were him.

  17. Was never a big fan of his… Writing was on the wall as Ellington is a better more diversified back.. However good on him for leaving on his terms. I will say he did what most of us couldn’t do… Play in the NFL

  18. At what point in the season did Ellington displace Mendenhall? I’m dying to know when that happened in your alternate realty.

  19. Whatever floats your boat. As far back as his rookie year, I never got the impression that Mendenhall loved football. Hopefully, he finds whatever fulfill him.

  20. Good for him. He made the money and doesn’t have to work the rest of his life. I hope he was smart with it and wish him well.

  21. Mendenhall has long showed a thinly-veiled hostility at the fans, a palpable cynicism regarding America in general and just a general lack of meaningful passion for playing the game of football.

    Mendenhall’s latest expression is that he no longer wishes to put his body at risk for the entertainment of others. What the hell kind of perspective is that? One answer is that it’s exactly the kind of response that would be fatal to him ever gaining employment if I was the decision-maker (and that would include drafting him in the first place, let alone burning a first round pick on him).

    He’s wired very differently than the elite players who love to play the game – for the sake of playing the game. Do you think Chuck Bednarik, Ray Nitschke and Randy White would be consumed with putting their body at risk for the entertainment of others? He’s got a quitter’s mentality — and those don’t usually thrive in the sink or swim, do or die, put up or shut up pressure cooker that is the NFL.

  22. I hate whenever anyone says they made this much, and by this much, all they do is add the money on contracts they made. These players pay taxes in every state they play in. Think about that. They pay in tickets for friends and family more than the salary of the average employee. Im not making excuses or anything, i just get upset when people say he made 15 million his career, thats enough to live on for life. Well, he likely made a third of that when it was all said and done, and 5 million really isnt the money to live a life on.

  23. Hes NO Robery Smith as a ball player or a person. Nor Tebow, Sanders, Brown or T Davis either ssssh

  24. @ravens4fr: Mendenhall had gained a total of 58 yards in the NFL at the point when the Ray Lewis injury happened.

    The following year, Mendenhall gained 1,108 yards.

    The year after that, Mendenhall gained 1,273 yards.

    All of this information is freely and easily available on the web if you want to avoid embarrassing yourself and your fan base in the future.

  25. So what you are basically doing is calling a man you probably don’t even know a liar as to his reasons for retiring and saying that you believe the real reason he is retiring is because he would probably make “only” $750k next year.

    I’m pretty sure $750k is more that Mendenhall is going to make doing whatever he is going to be doing outside of football next year.

    And by the way, he’s 26, so there is no reason to believe he couldn’t squeak out 3 more years or so of that kind of backup money. So that would be $750k x 3 = $2.25M. That doesn’t include increases in the veteran minimum.

    So, in point of fact, he is actually walking away from “millions”.

  26. I just wonder if he dropped his speech when he came to the podium to announce his retirement?

  27. This wack-job has probably already been to Vegas and put his career earnings on purple… Hello Rotorooter.

  28. Yeah, cause he’s so bad that he would be the only vet in the NFL to be allowed to make less than the vet minimum.

    There was still a place in the league for him and maybe he could have put up decent numbers.

    No need to kick a guy when he’s leaving.

  29. He heard the terrorists are looking for a replacement for Bin Laden. 15 million buys a lot of grenade launchers.

  30. Every steelers fan remembers him as the guy who coughed up the ball at the Super Bowl. I guess that ‘everything he could do’ in football is encompassed in that statement. He did just about everything he could do on Twitter, too.

  31. Short answer, he wasn’t getting resigned and his pride couldn’t take being possibly cut after resigning for veterans minimum. So he tried to play sympathy card with all the political correctness

  32. retiring from your job at a very young age .. that is every working person’s dream .. good for him .. i wish i had that option .. good for him

  33. Glad to see this headcase out of the league. First being a supporter of Bin Laden, and then clogging our judicial system with one of the most absurd lawsuits against champ sports for terminating his endorsement deal for his comments about Bin Laden and the US government. He claimed he had freedom of speech, but this clown didnt realize freedom of speech is not even a real term in a business setting.

  34. @jiggy3198 says: Mar 9, 2014 8:10 PM

    “Ever dunce he made that comment about bin laden he’s sucked. Kharma baby:”

    He’s the dunce? Lol.

  35. Not that they are anything alike, but the other running back I can remember who would have made millions is Robert Smith. He quit for health reasons too.

  36. Why the comments” one strange dude” . If people really could see the wear and tear on a player they would understand. At this point the
    NFL is a very physically taxing game. If a player feels financially
    comfortable to retire before he has no choice more power to him .
    The game has changed . I saw a former director of football operations
    speak only a month ago. He stated that when the combine started teams would see one maybe two 300 lbs. players. Now he stated that is all you see. He added and ” now they all run below 5. 5 forty yard dash
    or much better! To summarize the NFL has become a very tough
    work atmosphere . This former director stated that the hits players take are far more violent than 20 years ago. The NFL needs to extend
    The season without more games. The players need at least two bye
    weekends during a season . This would not really hurt the season…just
    start a few weeks earlier instead of exhibition games. The director also feels that longer practices would actually benefit and lower injuries.
    He clearly stated the way the NFL is proceeding is dangerous to players overall health.

  37. Gotta respect the man IMO he’s being very smart about this. He obviously was very smart with his money unlike the majority of the players. He’s made enough to live a nice life.

  38. His sympathy for Bin Laden made him a contemptible slimeball in my view, but he’s right about one thing – football players are entertainers. Their job is to entertain all the normal working people who get together on Sundays to relax and spend time with friends.

    At least he understands that, unlike most players who think they actually possess skills which are useful to society.

  39. I wouldn’t be too surprised if he’s broke in a few years and we hear that he is auctioning off his Super Bowl rings.

  40. Fumblehal won’t be missed at all….but I respect his manhood for not biting his words…..and I feel his decision because only he’s living for him not us or the greedy aliens of the nfl

  41. Read his essay and thought he explained his reasons with candor and honesty,seems like a very mature 26yr old who knows himself and what he wants, no shame in that..Wish him well in all he does and believe he will do it with that same honesty

  42. packhawk04 says:
    Mar 9, 2014 8:49 PM
    I hate whenever anyone says they made this much, and by this much, all they do is add the money on contracts they made. These players pay taxes in every state they play in. Think about that. They pay in tickets for friends and family more than the salary of the average employee. Im not making excuses or anything, i just get upset when people say he made 15 million his career, thats enough to live on for life. Well, he likely made a third of that when it was all said and done, and 5 million really isnt the money to live a life on.


    He had an endorsement deal as well I believe. All up he’s done something wrong if he’s not worth at least 6 or 7 or even 10 mil by now considering he should’ve been investing that money as he earnt it.

    Just conservatively he could buy a couple of houses/properties in low risk areas and rent them out. Plus have one for himself. Spread the rest of the money from very safe investments (like term deposits) and some more risky ones (share portfolio) and even after tax he should earn more than he spends if he lives a modest life.

    But he says he wants to write and do other things so he should find some form of employment as he writes pretty well in this article. The question will be if he truly has the brains and work ethic to get paid like a normal person. And the personality to live like a normal person even though he still should be able to afford a nice house, decent car, holidays etc The article about his retirement makes it sound like he does. But the Bin Laden stuff points the other way.

  43. I thought he was an average running back.

    I thought him voicing that the 9-11 report was flawed, made him that much of a cooler person.

    You people that are ripping him need to quit stressing out over what other people are doing with their careers. You might find yourself as a happier person.

  44. kwjsb March 9, 2014, 7:52 PM EDT

    Best Early retirement?

    Robert Smith RB, Vikings, he was one of the best and just hitting his prime.

    1) Jim Brown 2) Barry Sanders

  45. Just another mark on the Steelers bed post of busted draft picks. (there have been a ton, see Liddell Stewart, bam Morris, Dennis Dixon, Jonathan Dwyer, Cameron Heyward, etc.) Anyone who credits the down fall of his career to the ray Lewis hit is a compete and utter fool. IM a huge fan of rays, but lets not be stupid here. He bounced back from the shoulder amazingly well.

  46. If he put away some money, he can start a business. I agree full-heartedly with the change the league has gone through, and it sucks, no thanks in part to ESPN. I despise the Steelers, but I respect him for what he’s doing. He was a BEAST at Illinois.

  47. He no longer wishes to put his body at risk for the entertainment of others??????

    This guy has a bad attitude…..and he wasn’t entertaining with the ball in his hands, much less sitting on a bench…..

    Just another “big dummy” as Fred would say…..

  48. Rashard, I hate to break it to you but it’s SPORTS ENTERTAINMENT.

    …you didn’t really expect there’d be a great contribution to humanity for playing football, right?

    You should know they don’t give out Nobel Peace prizes or science awards for this…

  49. He MADE $15.1 million. The real question is how much money he has left? He doesn’t seem to be the type to throw money away, so if he had half a brain, he would have saved most of it. I respect his decision and wish him well.

  50. AZ had a lousy OL and average to poor QB play.
    In my estimation Mendenhall is closer to idiot than a GM would prefer, but the young man has NFL starter ability.

    Whatever he is going to pursue he can pursue in 4 years. He’ll regret this decision shortly and for the remainder of his life………….but it is his life.

    Good luck to you sir and a touch of advice; do not speak on topics you do not know.

  51. Even league minimum is ten times more than I make a year. A lot of people would be happy to ride bench for that.

  52. ravens4fr says: Mar 9, 2014 7:39 PM

    He was never the same after Ray Lewis broke Mendenhall’s shoulder – Ray had this effect on players!

    That is an incorrect statement. He had two pro bowl caliber seasons after that hit gaining over 1000 yards each season and gaining over 900 yards season after that.

  53. If I had $15 million and a chance to make money as a sports writer, I’d retire from the NFL tomorrow as well and move to Mt. Pleasant and write from the porch of Poe’s on Sullivans Island every day.

  54. There’s a bunch of fools that post on pft.

    Who wouldn’t retire and do whatever else they wanted to if they could?

    This dude has played 6 years. His body has taken a beating in one game some of you would never come back from.

    His political views are more common than you think. Lots of people don’t trust our leaders anymore.

  55. Why the long rambling statement, if he doesn’t want to play anymore just say i’m retiring. He got his wish to be a top search for a few hours or so, but ok he’ gone. The NFL goes on.

  56. I see people bash him about his views and words of choice but not his play…… we’re in America right people?? I thought it was called freedom of speech in this country?? Negative or positive right??

  57. He has more time now to devote to political conspiracy theories and the search for Bigfoot.

  58. He wrote a great piece for Huffington Post that is definitely worth a read. Everyone just assumes he retired because he was washed up or couldn’t get a big contract. Is it so hard to believe that he just doesn’t want to play anymore even if that means leaving millions on the table?

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