In April 2021 former Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner signed a one-year prove-it deal after a visit with the Arizona Cardinals. The decision to reunite with ex-Steelers running backs coach James Saxon was a good one, as he turned out to be a touchdown machine for the Cardinals, scoring 15 TDs on the ground and another three via the air, as per Pro Football Reference.
So it’s no surprise that Conner and the Cardinals have agreed to a new three-year contract, a deal that is worth a total of $21 million, which “could grow to a maximum of $25.5 million and includes $13.5M fully guaranteed,” according to Adam Schefter, senior NFL insider for ESPN.
James Conner Boldly Predicted Success in Arizona
Notably, Conner predicted he would have great success with the Cardinals. In June 2021, he told NFL insider Lisa Matthews that he and Chase Edmonds would be “one of the best” running back tandems in the league. It was a bold prediction from a back who was referred to by one analyst as “the worst starting running back in the NFL” less than a year earlier.
Last season Conner earned Pro Bowl honors for the second time in his five-year career, thanks in part to a career game against the 49ers in which he produced 173 total yards and three touchdowns on the way to a 31-17 victory.
He won’t be part of a tandem anymore, however, as Chase Edmonds is reportedly signing a two-year deal with the Miami Dolphins, this according to Schefter. That opens the door for former Arizona State running back Eno Benjamin to step into a larger role alongside Conner, something that the former Pitt product will likely welcome, as he has had difficulty staying healthy throughout much of his pro career, particularly when tasked with serving as the No. 1 back.
Conner is Former Third-Round Pick, Cancer Survivor
James Conner, 26, originally entered the NFL as a third-round pick of the Steelers in the 2017 NFL draft. During his four seasons playing with Ben Roethlisberger & Co. he had 532 carries for 2,302 yards and 22 rushing touchdowns, plus 124 receptions for 963 yards and four touchdown receptions.
But before getting drafted by the Steelers the Erie, Pa. native had to beat cancer, having been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma while in college at the University of Pittsburgh. In May 2020, Conner released an autobiography titled Fear is a Choice, in which he explains how he came to embrace his role as a cancer survivor, and how former Kansas City Chiefs All-Pro Eric Berry—a fellow Hodgkin’s Lymphoma survivor—provided with him with a blueprint to beat cancer.
Considering his success as both a college and pro running back, it’s interesting to note that Conner was recruited to the University of Pittsburgh as a defensive end. As a freshman, he actually played on the defensive line during a Bowl game with future three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald. In fact, the two closed out the Panthers’ Little Caesars Pizza Bowl victory over Bowling Green by playing “meet me at the quarterback.” (In other words, they came together to sack Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson.)
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was said to be “heartbroken” when Conner left the Steelers in free agency.
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