James Conner

No Extension Talks Yet For Steelers’ James Conner

James Conner has one year to go on his contract but he has yet to begin extension talks with the Steelers, as Ed Bouchette of The Athletic writes. Meanwhile, the running back says he isn’t too worried.

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My goal is to win,” Conner said. “I have the opportunity to do that. The special team we got, pieces that were out last year coming back healthy. I’m not playing for a contract or playing not to get hurt. I’m playing to win, that’s what it’s about, to be part of Super Bowl No. 7 for the organization.”

The former third-round pick is set to earn just $825K in base salary in the final year of his rookie deal. The slotted four-year pact pays Conner just $3.24MM in total and he’s undoubtedly eager to secure a pay bump on a multi-year extension. The Pitt product has said that it would “be hard” to ever play for another team and it stands to reason that the Steelers will want to keep him as well.

However, there are a few complications. First and foremost, there’s the current climate, which has put deals on hold for players all around the league. Then, there’s the matter of Conner’s down year. In 2018, he was the Steelers’ breakout replacement for Le’Veon Bell – he ran for 973 yards, averaged 4.5 yards per carry, and tacked on 497 receiving yards for good measure. Last year was a different story – he was limited to just 464 yards on the ground and six games, thanks to knee and shoulder trouble.

The Steelers, meanwhile, have safeguarded their RB depth chart a bit by drafting Anthony McFarland Jr. in the fourth round. Still, Conner stands as the Steelers’ RB1 heading into 2020, the leader of a group that also includes Benny Snell and Jaylen Samuels.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC North Rumors: Browns, Landry, Steelers

After undergoing hip surgery in February, Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry has pronounced himself “a little bit ahead of schedule,” according to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. Landry said he should be ready to return to field action at some point in August. At the moment, obviously, it’s unclear when/if training camp will officially get underway, but Landry figures to be ready during the preseason. Fresh off a campaign in which he posted 83 receptions for 1,174 yards and six touchdowns, Landry had hoped to avoid surgery in favor of a rest-and-rehab schedule, but ultimately went under the knife.

Here’s more from the AFC North:

  • Ben Roethlisberger, who missed the majority of the 2019 season after suffering an elbow injury, had already resumed throwing in February, but this week, he started throwing to his teammates. In a video tweeted by Roethlisberger, the veteran quarterback is shown throwing to Steelers pass-catchers JuJu Smith-Schuster, Ryan Switzer, and James Conner (and subsequently undergoing a haircut and shave). Now 38 years old, Roethlisberger had hoped to gain full medical clearance by the summer. He’s signed for two more years, with a whopping $41.25MM cap charge on the books for 2021.
  • Former Packers area scout Charles Walls has joined the Browns‘ front office, reports Rob Demosky of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Walls will receive a promotion in Cleveland and will hold the title of national scout, per Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal (Twitter link). Walls, who had been with Green Bay since the 2013 season, had covered the Southeast region for the Packers.
  • In case you missed it, the Ravens are considering an out-of-state training camp location due to COVID-19 concerns.

James Conner: It’d Be Hard To Leave Steelers

Steelers running back James Conner is scheduled to be a free agent following the 2020 season. Still, he says it “would be hard” to play for another NFL team.

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It would be hard, it would be hard to put another helmet on. Just because of everything and what this city means to me,” Conner told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. “The city I played my college ball in, the city I had my life saved in, became healthy. The city I got drafted to, and I want to be able to say the city I brought a championship to…It would be hard. I’m Pittsburgh through and through.”

Conner’s loyalty to the Steelers hasn’t wavered. However, his stock has. In 2018, he shined as the team’s new replacement for Le’Veon Bell, posting 973 rushing yards, a per carry average of 4.5 yards, and 497 receiving yards. However, he slumped last year along with the rest of the Steelers’ offense. Conner had just 464 yards on the ground and played in just six games.

This year, the Steelers expect the University of Pittsburgh product to come back strong and healthy. It’s not easy to rehab from knee and shoulder injuries, but no one is counting Conner out after he bounced back from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

This year, Conner will be supported by Benny Snell, fourth-round rookie Anthony McFarland Jr., and Jaylen Samuels. If he’s able to reprise his 2018 performance, he should be in line for a nice pay bump in 2021, and he’ll probably get that deal from the Steelers.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Steelers Notes: Harrison, Tomlin, Ebron

Notorious cheap-shot artist and Steelers icon James Harrison last set foot on the field in 2017, but he is back in the headlines today. In an interview on Barstool Sports’ “Going Deep” podcast, Harrison said that Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin handed him an envelope after Harrison laid a brutal hit on Browns receiver Mohamed Massaquoi in October 2010 (story via TMZ).

“And, I ain’t gonna lie to you, when that happened, right? [T]he G-est thing Mike Tomlin ever did, he handed me an envelope after that,” Harrison said. “I ain’t gonna say what, but he handed me an envelope after that.”

The clear implication, of course, is that the alleged envelope contained money, either as a “reward” for the hit or to help Harrison pay the ensuing $75K fine from the league. One way or another, it could spell trouble for Tomlin if the league chooses to investigate (though since the alleged incident took place prior to sanctions being levied in the Saints’ Bountygate scandal, that may not happen).

Team president Art Rooney II, of course, denies the allegation (via Mike Florio of PFT), and so does Harrison’s agent, Bill Parise (via Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review). After the public tied Harrison’s comments to Bountygate, Harrison himself took to social media to deny that Tomlin gave him a “bounty,” but he notably did not deny that the envelope helped offset his fine. Most likely, this will all be forgotten in short order, but it will be interesting to see if the NFL does decide to launch some sort of investigation.

Now for more from the Steel City:

  • New Steelers tight end Eric Ebron has passed his physical, as Ebron himself announced (via Twitter). An ankle injury wiped out his 2019 season almost completely, but he still managed to land a two-year, $12MM pact with Pittsburgh, thanks in large part to his Pro Bowl performance in 2018. He will join fellow tight end Vance McDonald as a seam-stretching target and red zone threat for Ben Roethlisberger.
  • After a promising 2018 campaign, Steelers RB James Conner was limited by injuries in 2019, and he averaged a full five fewer runs per game last season than he did the year before. But Tomlin prefers having a bell-cow in his backfield, and he hopes Conner can return to that role in 2020. “James is a featured guy and proven runner when healthy,” Tomlin said (via Rutter). “We’re excited about him getting back to health and displaying that in 2020.” Conner is entering a contract year, so a return to form as the Steelers’ RB1 could also land him a nice payday.
  • The Steelers may be in the market for a nose tackle after losing Javon Hargrave to the Eagles in free agency, as Mark Kaboly of The Athletic writes. While pure nose tackles are going the way of the dodo, Hargrave was so valuable because of his ability to generate pass rush from the interior while also serving as a traditional NT against power-running teams, but those players are tough to find on the open market. If the club makes a move to add a veteran via free agency or trade, Kaboly believes it will not happen until after training camp. Until then, Daniel McCullers and seventh-round rookie Carlos Davis will attempt to fill the void left by Hargrave.

Steelers GM Kevin Colbert On Contract Status, Ben Roethlisberger

Last summer, Steelers GM Kevin Colbert indicated he did not want to enter into a multi-year extension with the team, as he prefers to take things on a year-to-year basis. Earlier this month, the 63-year-old signed another one-year contract with the club to remain in his general manager post through the 2020 campaign.

But in a meeting with Steelers beat writers today, Colbert indicated he is not thinking about quitting anytime soon. “As long as the Rooneys and the Pittsburgh Steelers want me to be a part of this organization and it’s a good thing for our family, we’ll be here,” Colbert said. “I’m not looking to ever go anywhere else again as long as the Rooneys and the Steelers are interested in me” (Twitter link via Brooke Pryor of ESPN.com).

So while Colbert may prefer the flexibility that his one-year extensions afford him, it sounds as if he will continue to lead the Pittsburgh front office for as long as the team wants him to and for as long as his personal life permits. And for good reason. Colbert joined the Steelers in 2000, was promoted from director of football operations to GM in 2010, and has helped build two Super Bowl-winning teams and 12 playoff squads over the years.

In his conversation, Colbert also discussed the status of QB Ben Roethlisberger. We heard in December that Big Ben is expected to make a full recovery from surgery to reattach three tendons in his right arm, and Colbert said today that he believes Roethlisberger’s rehab is going in the right direction (Twitter link via Pryor). The veteran signal-caller has a checkup in Los Angeles on February 21.

Colbert further indicated that the injuries that plagued JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Conner, and Vance McDonald last year would not impact their long-term availability (Twitter link via Pryor). And in other Steelers news, Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tweets that the Steelers are expected to hire a new WR coach any day now. The team is deciding between Jerricho Cotchery and Bryan McClendon.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Injury Notes: Eagles, Jacobs, Steelers, Hawks

Afflicted with injuries to their receiving corps for most of the season, the Eagles will be severely shorthanded on this front in their win-and-in game Sunday. In addition to Nelson Agholor missing another game, Zach Ertz is not ready to return. Carson Wentz‘s top target will miss Week 17 due to back and ribs injuries. Ertz left the Eagles’ Week 16 win, leaving second-year tight end Dallas Goedert as Wentz’s most proven target.

Here is the latest from Philadelphia and other contending teams’ injury situations going into the regular season’s final Sunday:

  • While the Eagles are stripped of their top three wide receivers and their premier tight end, Jordan Howard will return. The fourth-year running back missed Philadelphia’s past six games due to a shoulder injury. The Eagles’ leading rusher when the injury surfaced at the midseason point, Howard will rejoin a backfield that’s seen more from Miles Sanders and some contributions from Boston Scott.
  • Moving to another playoff hopeful’s running back situation, the Raiders will be without Josh Jacobs on Sunday in Denver. The team declared Jacobs out, meaning he will miss a third game in his past four. Their offensive rookie of the year candidate is battling a shoulder malady and a skin condition, the latter prompting him to undergo a minor surgery this week. Jacobs missed Week 14 and Week 16 due to a shoulder injury. Free agent-to-be DeAndre Washington has filled in well for Jacobs, amassing 202 scrimmage yards in those two games. The Raiders need to win and receive another Sunday of good fortune to make the playoffs.
  • One of the teams the Raiders need to lose Sunday will be shorthanded on the ground as well. James Conner will miss the Steelers‘ regular-season finale, joining Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey in that regard. After missing a chunk of Pittsburgh’s season with a shoulder injury, Conner is now dealing with a quad problem. Pouncey is down due to a knee ailment.
  • Most of the non-Marshawn Lynch Seahawks news this week centers around the players who will not be available Sunday night, but the team will have some key players back in uniform. Jadeveon Clowney and Shaquill Griffin missed Seattle’s past two games but will be on the field in Sunday’s de facto NFC West championship game against San Francisco. Clowney is still battling the core issue that he initially played through but one that’s caused him to miss time.
  • The 49ers placed another defensive lineman on IR. Defensive tackle Jullian Taylor will end his season on the injured list because of an ACL tear sustained in practice this week, Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area notes. A 2018 seventh-round pick, Taylor played in six 49ers games this season. Defensive linemen Taylor, Ronald Blair, D.J. Jones and Damontre Moore reside on San Francisco’s IR list.

Steelers RB James Conner Out, Juju Smith-Schuster Doubtful

The Steelers will already be shorthanded this Sunday against the Bengals after the NFL upheld a two-game suspension on starting center Maurkice Pouncey, but it appears injuries could be removing their two most important offensive weapons as well. Pittsburgh’s star running back James Conner is out this week with a shoulder injury and “it’s not looking good” for wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster either, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com.

Pittsburgh’s season looked doomed early on when longtime starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suffered a season-ending elbow injury. However, backup Mason Rudolph has managed to play well enough to keep the Steelers on the periphery of playoff contention. Of course, the presence of two elite weapons like Conner and Smith-Schuster has surely helped ease Rudolph’s transition.

Conner has struggled with durability through his three-year professional career, but remains an effective weapon when healthy. On the season, Conner has 390 rushing yards and possibly more importantly has averaged more than 8 yards a reception catching passes. Smith-Schuster has maintained solid production even amidst a down year for the receiver. Starting every game on the season thus far, Smith-Schuster has accrued 524 receiving yards on 38 receptions.

North Notes: Steelers, Burnett, Lions

If you’ve missed the latest Thursday-night game, injuries have limited the Steelers. Pittsburgh lost JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner; the former suffered a concussion and the latter re-injured the AC joint that sidelined him for the past two games. Both are out for the rest of the Browns game, as are cornerback Artie Burns and wideout Diontae Johnson (due to a knee injury and a concussion, respectively). This is Smith-Schuster’s third known concussion since coming into the league. He suffered two as a rookie in 2017.

Here is the latest from the North divisions:

  • Both of the Browns‘ starting safeties are out of tonight’s game. Shortly before Damarious Randall was ejected for a helmet-to-helmet hit, the Browns lost Morgan Burnett. The ex-Packers and Steelers defender suffered what the Browns fear is a significant Achilles injury, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (on Twitter). After being relegated to a part-time role in his one Pittsburgh season, Burnett has been a full-time starter in Cleveland.
  • The NFL is looking into the Lions‘ handling of Matthew Stafford‘s back injury, Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com notes. Multiple Lions players were informed Saturday that Stafford would not play, but Detroit had called the quarterback a game-time decision. Stafford has been playing through back pain all season. The league requires teams to update their injury reports if it has been decided, prior to a team’s stadium arrival, a player will not play.
  • With Michael Pierce battling an injury, the Ravens bolstered their defensive tackle corps with two veteransDomata Peko and Justin Ellis.

James Conner Expected To Play Week 11

More good news for the surging Steelers. After winning four in a row, Pittsburgh is firmly in the AFC playoff picture, and as Brooke Pryor of ESPN.com writes, the club is expected to have starting running back James Conner back on the field for Thursday night’s matchup against the division-rival Browns.

Conner has missed the past two games with a shoulder injury, and the Steelers’ rushing attack has suffered as a result. The team averaged 1.6 yards per carry against the Rams on Sunday and just 3.6 yards per carry against the Colts the week before. While Pittsburgh won both contests — largely as a result of its play-making defense — it clearly needs a strong run game to support young QB Mason Rudolph.

Conner himself has struggled to get untracked this year, as he is averaging under four yards per tote, but he did post 23 carries for 145 yards and a score in the Steeler’s win over the Dolphins in Week 8 before suffering the shoulder injury. He is also a useful receiving weapon and represents a clear upgrade over the likes of Jaylen Samuels and Trey Edmunds.

As Pryor notes, Conner is not fully healed, but he expects that he will be able to manage his pain well enough to handle a full workload. “I’m making a lot of progress on it, and I think I’ll be good to go [on Thursday],” Conner said. “I can’t make no guarantees, but as of right now, I’m feeling very good and things are feeling very confident for me playing on Thursday.”

The team announced that it released RB Darrin Hall from its practice squad, which is another indication that Conner will play on Thursday. To replace Hall, the Steelers added LB Sutton Smith to the taxi squad.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

North Notes: Vikings, Conner, JuJu, Lions

The 2017 draft class will become extension-eligible in January, and Dalvin Cook‘s contract figures to be one the key talking points once the calendar flips to the 2020 offseason. The Vikings are one of the few teams to have paid a running back top-market money, via Adrian Peterson‘s $14.4MM-AAV pact from 2011. With Cook’s contract not containing a fifth-year option like Christian McCaffrey‘s does, the Vikings will likely have to address his deal sooner than the Panthers will need to negotiate with their All-Pro candidate. Ezekiel Elliott‘s $15MM-per-year deal represents the new running back benchmark. Although Cook has been injury-prone, he will surely seek a contract in the Elliott-Todd GurleyLe’Veon BellDavid Johnson tax bracket (north of $13MM annually).

Running backs are valuable,” Cook said, via ESPN.com’s Courtney Cronin. “For guys to get rewarded for how physical, how much they get their bodies ready each and every week to go take that pounding, guys [are] getting rewarded for that. The running back value kind of went down, but I think we’re just as valuable as any position.”

Here is the latest from the North divisions:

  • Adam Thielen will not play Sunday night. The Vikings ruled out their highest-paid wide receiver for Week 10’s Cowboys contest. Thielen has dealt with this hamstring injury since Week 7, missing Minnesota’s game against the Redskins and exiting last week’s Chiefs game after seven snaps.
  • One of Cook’s 2017 draft classmates, James Conner, will also need at least another week to recover from injury. The Steelers ruled out Conner for Week 10. They also added JuJu Smith-Schuster to this week’s injury report Friday. Pittsburgh’s top wideout is questionable to face the Rams with a toe injury.
  • Lions safety Miles Killebrew suffered a concussion during Thursday’s practice, Kyle Meinke of MLive.com notes. The Lions moved Killebrew to linebacker last year, but the trade of Quandre Diggs and Tracy Walker‘s knee injury prompted the team to shift Killebrew back to safety recently. UFA addition Tavon Wilson, third-round rookie Will Harris and rookie UDFA C.J. Moore are the Lions’ only healthy safeties. Killebrew and Walker are out for Sunday’s Bears tilt
  • The Lions’ two-year extension for Christian Jones features a short-term sacrifice for a 2020 payment. The deal reduces the linebacker’s 2019 salary from $2.45MM to the veteran minimum, which will be worth approximately $426K for the season’s remainder. In exchange, Jones will receive a $1.97MM signing bonus, Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com tweets. The through-2021 deal averages $2.92MM. Detroit tacked on a voidable 2022 year, in order to spread the bonus across three seasons instead of two.