James Conner is likely to be well-paid next season, and he’s hoping it’s by the Arizona Cardinals.
The Cardinals running back didn’t come right out and say he only wants wants to play in Arizona next season, but he listed several reasons to return — the weather, his teammates and coaches, and a shot at a ring.
“I want to win a Super Bowl here and let the chips fall where they may,” Conner told reporters Tuesday, November 30.
ALL the latest Cardinals news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on Cardinals newsletter here!
Conner, 26, has made quite an impression in his first season with the Cardinals. He leads the team in rushing with 555 yards (50.5 per game) through 11 games and ranks second in the NFL with 12 rushing touchdowns.
The former Pro Bowl RB with the Pittsburgh Steelers also has been a weapon in the passing game, making 18 catches for 173 yards — including a 45-yard touchdown during his three-TD day in San Francisco in Week 9.
“I feel brand new,” Conner said.
When asked if he’s hoping to remain in Arizona beyond this season, Conner responded with: “I don’t see why not.”
“We’re going to take it one week at a time first. We’ve got a big game at Chicago coming up,” he said, noting the Sunday, December 5, matchup with the Bears. “But after the season, I’ve got a lot of love for the Cardinals, so we’ll see what happens.”
Follow the Heavy on Cardinals Facebook page, where you can weigh in on all the latest Cardinals-related breaking news, rumors, roster moves and more!
‘A Defining Moment’
Conner signed a one-year, $1.75 million deal with the Cardinals in April after four seasons with the Steelers. Arizona GM Steve Keim and coach Kliff Kingsbury saw the 6-foot-1, 233-pound running back as a possible solution to its short-yardage and red zone struggles last season.
And they were right. Conner is on pace to break the franchise record of 20 rushing touchdowns in a season set by David Johnson in 2016.
“I just want to be able to do my part, play my role and score touchdowns,” he said.
Conner credited his success to the Cardinals offensive line, led by another player in his first year in Arizona: center Rodney Hudson.
“Everything starts up front,” he said. “Coming here, they talked about how they upgraded the offensive line, and my man Rodney has been holding it down up front. … There’s been lanes for me; there’s been openings in the end zone.”
Conner has seen his workload increase in recent weeks with Chase Edmonds sidelined with a high ankle sprain. Edmonds was injured on the first play of the game in San Francisco on November 7, and Arizona’s offense already was missing quarterback Kyler Murray (ankle) and its top two wide receivers, DeAndre Hopkins (hamstring) and A.J. Green (COVID-19).
Conner ended up having a huge day, gaining 173 total yards (96 rushing, 77 receiving) and scoring three TDs. He reflected on the 31-17 victory in “Cardinals Flight Plan: Ready to Rise,” which premiered Wednesday, November 24, on the team’s YouTube Channel.
“It was a defining moment to kind of step up and do what needs to be done so we can do whatever we can to leave the stadium with a victory,” Conner said.
Conner knows all about defining moments. As a junior at Pitt in 2015, Conner took a hit to his knee during the first game of the season and suffered a torn MCL.
“While I was recovering and rehabbing, I couldn’t really breathe while I was working out,” he recalls in “Cardinals Flight Plan.” “I was getting real shortness of breath, wasn’t really sleeping at night. So I was dealing with all these symptoms.
“I got an X-ray on my chest, and that’s when they had found a tumor on my chest, attached to my heart.”
Conner was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and later underwent six months of chemotherapy, getting treatments every two weeks.
“I learned a lot about myself, how to fight, how to persevere,” he said.
Conner was deemed cancer-free within a year, and returned to Pitt to complete his stellar collegiate career. He finished with 3,733 rushing yards, 56 total touchdowns and 52 rushing TDs in 39 games with the Panthers from 2013-16, ranking second in school history behind Tony Dorsett in all three categories.
After beating cancer, the Pennsylvania native had “Conner Strong” tattooed on his biceps.
“Right after that, I realized God had a plan for me,” he said. “Conner strong — I put it right on my biceps. I was a man on a mission after that. I’m still on a mission.”
Conner also shares his story in his book “Fear Is a Choice,” co-authored with Tiffany Yecke Brooks and published in June 2020 by HarperCollins.