Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Former Pro Bowl running back James Conner wants to finish career with Cardinals

It’s safe to say that James Conner has made the most of his second NFL opportunity. A former Steelers third-round pick who blossomed into a Pro Bowler in Pittsburgh, Conner has reinforced his status as a Pro Bowl-caliber player during his first three years with the Cardinals, who signed him back in 2021 after the Steelers let him test the free-agent market. 

Instead of testing the market again next offseason (Conner is entering the final year of his current contract), the veteran running back wants to stay in Arizona for as long as he continues to play football. 

“It would be awesome to finish my career here, but nothing changes,” the 29-year-old Conner recently told the team’s website. “If anything, it’s time to turn it up even more going into the last year of my deal. I’m thankful I got to see the last year of it, so I’ll go into it with everything I got. We’ll see what happens next year, hopefully stay, but I understand it’s a business.”

Conner’s success with the Cardinals isn’t a surprise to anyone that knows his story. A cancer survivor, Conner was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma during his junior season at Pitt. He underwent treatment and was declared cancer free prior to a senior season that saw him score 20 touchdowns for the Panthers. 

With the Steelers, Conner sat behind Le’Veon Bell as a rookie before being thrown into the starting lineup in 2018 as a result of Bell’s yearlong holdout. Despite the uncertainty of Bell’s holdout, Conner turned in a Pro Bowl season after scoring 13 touchdowns and amassing nearly 1,500 all-purpose yards. 

Despite his success in Pittsburgh, Conner was deemed as expendable after injuries limited his availability during his last two years with the Steelers. And while injuries have prevented him from having even more success with Arizona, he has stayed healthy enough to receive another Pro Bowl nod (in 2021) while amassing 3,414 total yards and 35 touchdowns during his first three seasons with the Cardinals. 

Last year may have been Conner’s best season to date. In 13 games, he recorded his first 1,000-yard rushing season while averaging a career-high 5 yards-per-carry. In Week 13, Conner had 105 yards and two touchdowns on the ground against his former team while helping the Cardinals upset the Steelers. 

While he has continued to produce at a high level, Conner has also become a leader on a young Cardinals team that is hoping to turn the corner in 2024. Conner is hoping to be with Arizona when the Cardinals — who have made the playoffs just once over the past eight years — do turn things around. 

“We have a great football team,” Conner said. “We’re coached really well, so we want that to reflect on our record and our play.” 

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