No notable extension talks between the Steelers and James Conner transpired ahead of his contract year, which doubled as a brutally ineffective season for Pittsburgh’s ground game. The team is not expected to re-sign Conner, Brooke Pryor of ESPN.com notes. Considering the Pittsburgh native’s history of nagging injuries and the Steelers’ salary cap issues, this should not be especially surprising. Conner has played well in spurts, initially starting the Steelers’ post-Le’Veon Bell era so strong he made the Pro Bowl as an original invitee. However, an injury slowed Conner late in that 2018 season. He battled maladies in 2019 and ’20 as well; the cancer survivor also contracted COVID-19 last year. This will create a clear need at running back in Pittsburgh, even with the likes of Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland still under contract.
Conner may need to accept a one-year deal in order to re-establish his value, perhaps putting him in the same boat as fellow 2017 draftee Marlon Mack. These two will join Chris Carson and Kenyan Drake, barring extensions commencing before March 17, in free agency. The Packers have four days to use their franchise tag on Aaron Jones.
Here is the latest from the AFC North:
- Financial issues likely contributed to the Steelers not adding J.J. Watt to their stable of Watts. Although the Steelers have standout defensive ends Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt, they were in the mix for the eldest Watt until the end, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com tweets. The Steelers were one of the teams mentioned as a landing spot hours after the Texans released Watt. The five-time All-Pro would have welcomed the opportunity to join his brothers, per Fowler, despite the Steelers being stacked at his position. But the former Texans superstar signed with the Cardinals, who took a clear lead in the final few days of this process.
- Ravens GM Eric DeCosta did not seem to view the addition of a No. 1-type wide receiver as critical this offseason, and Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com adds that the team is not expected to spring for one. The Ravens have young players Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin under contract, but Hensley notes the team is unlikely to bring back Willie Snead. Signing a second-tier wideout does not sound out of the question, with several intriguing names available and more potentially coming via the cap-casualty route soon. But Baltimore’s run-oriented offense will make going the free agency route at this position more complicated. The team ranked last in wide receiver receptions (137) last season.
- The Browns are not planning to use an RFA tender on backup defensive back and key special-teamer Tavierre Thomas, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com tweets. With the cap going down, teams may be stingier with their tender offers. Thomas could be brought back at a lower rate than what the low-end tender will cost (roughly $2.1MM), but the fourth-year player may hit the market.