Steelers Running Back James Conner Visiting Cardinals: Report

James Conner

Patrick Smith/Getty Images Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers hands off to running back James Conner against the Baltimore Ravens on November 01, 2020.

There hasn’t been much of a market for unrestricted free agent running back James Conner since he hit free agency almost a month ago. But according to Jay Glazer of FOX Sports, Conner is visiting with the Arizona Cardinals on Monday—his first known team visit since the 2021 league year got underway.

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Conner Had Surgery to Correct an Off-the-Field Injury

There may be a good reason why Conner hasn’t yet visited other NFL teams. According to a report by Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, Conner underwent offseason surgery to repair what Rapoport describes as a “very moderate turf-toe type injury,” with the injury occurring while Conner was riding an unspecified “recreational vehicle.” Also per Rapoport, the surgery was conducted by renowned foot and ankle specialist Dr. Robert Anderson [of Bellin Health Titletown Sports Medicine and Orthopedics in Green Bay] and that a full recovery is expected by summer.

It doesn’t help that Conner is coming off a second-consecutive subpar season, following on the heels of a Pro Bowl performance in 2018. Or that Conner has been hampered by injuries since he came into the league as a third-round pick of the Steelers in 2017, the same draft that produced outside linebacker T.J. Watt (first round), wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (second round) and cornerback Cameron Sutton (third round), all of whom will be back with the Steelers for at least one more year.

Last season Conner started just 11 of the 13 games in which he appeared and rushed the ball 169 times for 721 yards and six touchdowns. Along the way his performance was compromised by a quad injury, and he also reportedly tested positive for COVID-19 in November, this after electing not to opt out of the 2020 season, despite his medical history.

In December 2015, while in college at the University of Pittsburgh, Conner and his doctors revealed that he had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Fortunately, after undergoing chemotherapy he announced that he was cancer-free on May 23, 2016. Less than a year later, he realized his dream of being drafted into the NFL—by his hometown team, no less.

James Conner: ‘Fear is a Choice’

Last offseason Conner published his autobiography, titled Fear is a Choice, in which he revealed how he came to embrace being a cancer survivor. The book also features more than its share of inspirational vignettes and less well known aspects of his story, including the fact that he was recruited to Pitt as a defensive end, which helps explain how he once combined with future NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald to sack an opposing quarterback. He also recalls how former All-Pro safety Eric Berry (Kansas City Chiefs), provided him with the “blueprint” for how to beat cancer.

Over the course of four seasons with the Steelers, Conner has appeared in 50 games, carrying the ball 532 times for 2,302 yards and 22 touchdowns. He also has 124 career receptions for 963 yards and four touchdown receptions.

As for the running backs who remain on Pittsburgh’s roster, those include Benny Snell Jr., Jaylen Samuels, Anthony McFarland Jr. and Kalen Ballage, the latter of whom has played for the Miami Dolphins and Los Angeles Chargers. Ballage was signed to a one-year contract late last month.

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