Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers to talk

Despite being suspended for Sunday's game against the Cowboys, Rashard Mendenhall and the Pittsburgh Steelers are communicating and committing to meaningful contractual conversation with the running back's deal expiring this offseason, according to sources.

The fact the two sides are communicating is an encouraging sign, because it didn't happen the two weeks leading up to Mendenhall's one-game suspension.

He will be an unrestricted free agent after this season.

Also, Mendenhall was informed by his friends, not his coaches, that he had lost his starting job two weeks ago to Jonathan Dwyer, sources said.

Then he found out he was being deactivated against Baltimore when he arrived at the stadium and found his locker empty.

His suspension, announced last Tuesday, stems from Mendenhall's absence from Heinz Field last Sunday after he was told by the team he would not dress against the Chargers, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

Pittsburgh's leading rusher for the past three seasons, Mendenhall is expected to be with the Steelers on Monday in preparation for the Week 16 game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Mendenhall has been inactive for the past two games since fumbling twice on four carries in Cleveland.

Mendenhall also has been slowed this season by injuries. He tore the ACL in his right knee in Week 17 last season and didn't return until Oct. 4 this year. His return didn't last long, though, as he strained his right Achilles four days later.

Mendenhall's recent injuries have allowed for increased production out of Dwyer, Isaac Redman and even rookie Chris Rainey.

Information from ESPN.com AFC North blogger Jamison Hensley was used in this report.