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Jaylen Samuels Had Been Reunited With James Saxon, James Conner
It seems the Cardinals were hoping that Samuels might experience a resurgence of sorts under his old running backs coach, James Saxon, much like fellow ex-Steeler James Conner thrived under Saxon during his first season in Arizona.
Recall that Samuels had the best season of his career in 2018 while being coached by Saxon. That year the former fifth-round pick (North Carolina State) served as a nice complement to Conner, rushing 56 times for 256 yards and catching 26 passes for 199 yards with three touchdown receptions.
All told, Samuels played three full seasons with the Steelers. But in 2021 he failed to make the roster and signed to the practice squad a day later. It was there he remained until October 27, when he was released in favor of Anthony McFarland Jr.
Samuels didn’t stay unemployed for long, however, as he signed to Houston’s practice squad following a workout with the Texans, who proceeded to utilize him in three games.
Thus far in his NFL career, Samuels has 136 career carries for 468 yards and one rushing touchdown, plus 85 catches for 564 yards and four receiving touchdowns, this according to Pro Football Reference.
The Cardinals Needed a New Running Back to Complement James Conner
Notably, Jaylen Samuels lost his roster spot to running back Darrel Williams, who had 558 yards rushing and six touchdowns for the Kansas City Chiefs last season, plus 47 receptions for 452 yards and two other scores.
The Cards signed Williams so as not to overwork Conner, who has struggled to stay healthy when he has been tasked with being a No. 1 running back.
Conner is about to embark on his second season in the desert, having initially signed with the Cardinals in April 2021, just days after the former Pitt Panthers star paid a visit to Arizona to meet with the team’s coaches.
Two months later, Conner boldly predicted that he and Chase Edmonds would be one of the best running back tandems in the NFL in 2021. Never mind how one NFL analyst had referred to him as the “worst starting running back in the NFL” just a month earlier.
Of course, Arizona didn’t use Conner as its starter in 2021, at least not before Edmonds suffered a high ankle sprain that resulted in a stint on injured reserve. That allowed the Cardinals to use Conner selectively, and he rewarded his team by scoring touchdown after touchdown — with the help of former Steelers offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum, no less — en route to a Pro Bowl season in which he produced a total of 18 TDs, 15 of which came on the ground.
It was the second Pro Bowl campaign of Conner’s five-year career, which got underway in 2017 after the Steelers drafted him out of the University of Pittsburgh, which had recruited him as a defensive end. That explains how Conner once got to play on the same defensive line as future three-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald, before he beat cancer on his way to becoming a third-round draft pick.
In March 2022, Conner inked a new three-year, $21 million contract with the Cardinals, with $13.5 million guaranteed. But Edmonds signed with the Dolphins in free agency in mid-March, hence the need for Darrel Williams.
Even without Samuels, the Cardinals still have a sizable contingent of ex-Steelers on the payroll, including Conner, Beachum and cornerback Breon Borders.
In addition to Saxon, Arizona’s coaching staff also features run game coordinator/offensive line coach Sean Kugler, whose tenure in Pittsburgh lasted from 2010-12.
For his part, Beachum remains one of the biggest bargains in the NFL. In March 2021, the former seventh-round pick signed a second contract with the Cardinals — a two-year deal worth a total of just $4 million. He started 15 games at offensive tackle for the Cardinals last season. This year he is scheduled to earn a salary of $1.925 million, as per overthecap.com, and will count just $2.425 million against Arizona’s salary cap.
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