Instant Analysis: James Conner Signs with Cardinals

Less than 24 hours ago, James Conner took a visit to Arizona. Today, he decided he didn’t want to leave. Instead, he will now call Arizona home for the following year.

But first, Conner made sure to thank his former city.

Jay Glazer of Fox Sports had it first, reporting Conner has agreed to terms on a one-year deal with the Cardinals. The details of the contract have yet to be reported.

Until then, instant analysis of the signing will be provided.

For Conner Himself

After spending the first four years of his career with the team that called his name with the 105th overall pick in 2017, Conner will be finding a new area code. In his 50 career games with the Steelers, he has rushed for 2,302 yards and racked up twenty-two touchdowns on 532 carries. While adding 963 yards as a pass-catcher.

After battling injuries in 2019, Conner had a relatively down year in 2020. Rushing for 721 yards and 6 touchdowns on 169 carries, two hundred yards less than his rookie season. He also managed to pick up 215 yards through the air compared to 497 his first year in the league.

The downward trend makes it easy to see why the Steelers elected to part ways. More concerning is that Conner has yet to play an entire season. In his rookie year, he played 14 games, followed with 13, 10, then 13 again in 2020. Conner’s inability to stay on the field certainly sets the stage for his contract to be incentive-heavy. However, if the Cardinals fished out big bucks for Conner, it could very well backfire on them.

Keep in mind that Conner is coming off a recent surgery as well. Ian Rapoport reported one day ago that Conner underwent surgery to repair a very moderate turf-toe type injury. The injury was not sustained due to football but because of riding in a recreational vehicle. While he is expected to make a full recovery in June, it certainly adds to his injury concerns. After all, the best ability in is availability.

For the Steelers

The Steelers are one year removed from finishing last in the league in rushing attempts. Losing their leading rusher (Conner), their run game is set for a total makeover.

They still have Benny Snell under contract, who will look to have a more prominent role in 2021. Given he had 111 caries (50 less than Conner) in 2020, it should be a relatively seamless transition for Snell.

The Steelers could also look to add via the Draft in a couple weeks. With possible targets such as Najee Harris or Travis Etienne in the first round. Or Javonte Williams and Trey Sermon in the second or third round. Chubba Hubbard is also a name to keep an eye on in the third round as well.

For the Cardinals

After losing their leading rusher in Kenyan Drake, the Cardinals opted to replace him with James Conner. Conner will be joining a running back group that includes already Chase Edmonds. The expectation is that Conner will split carries with Edmonds, similar to how Drake and Edmonds did a season ago.

The split should bode well for Conner, given his injury history. With fewer carries, he should limit his hits and produce at a higher level. His addition also gives Kyler Murray another pass-catching option out of the backfield. Which is yet another sign that the Cardinals are going all-in on Murray this season.

Overall, the Cardinals continue to add big-name veterans to their squads. Most recently, with Conner and JJ Watt, A.J. Green, Malcolm Butler, and Rodney Hudson. This Cardinals squad should be extremely fun to watch down the road, assuming each of those veterans are able to stay healthy for the duration of the season.