James Conner

James Conner Wants To Stay With Cardinals 

James Conner seems to have found a home with the Cardinals. As he plays out his one-year contract in the desert, the running back says he has little reason to leave.

Man, I want to win a Super Bowl here,” Conner said (via Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic). “I love the weather and everything this team has going and my teammates out here and the coaching staff. I don’t see why not, why I wouldn’t want to be here. We have all the resources and everything we need to be successful. We’re going to take it one week at a time first. We’ve got a big game against Chicago coming up. But after the season, I’ve got a lot of love for the Cardinals, so we’ll see what happens.”

Conner, 27 in May, has found paydirt eight times over the last five games, giving him a total of 13 touchdowns on the year. Through eleven games, that’s already enough to match his previous single-season best. Now, he has a chance to leapfrog Chris Johnson‘s all-time franchise record of 20 TDs.

Conner admitted that his “options were limited” when he agreed to join the Cardinals in the spring. Now, his one-year, $1.75MM contract stands as one of the best values in the NFL. There’s no doubt that Conner will get a big pay bump in 2022 — ideally, he says he’d like to make it happen in Arizona:

I just came, and I wanted to play my best football. My options were limited. This is the plan. It’s the Cardinals. And I wouldn’t want to be nowhere else right now.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Minor NFL Transactions: 8/12/21

Here are Thursday’s minor moves:

Arizona Cardinals

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

  • Signed: CB Dominique Martin
  • Waived/injured: LB Randy Ramsey

Indianapolis Colts

New Orleans Saints

New York Jets

San Francisco 49ers

Seattle Seahawks

  • Re-signed: WR Darece Roberson
  • Waived: CB Bryan Mills

Tennessee Titans

  • Signed: LB Reggie Floyd
  • Waived: WR Kalija Lipscomb
  • Waived/injured: OL Adam Coon

Latest On Cardinals RB “Competition”

The Cardinals running back competition might not be much of a competition after all. Adam H. Beasley of ProFootballNetwork.com writes that the “battle at running back might be a battle in name only,” with Chase Edmonds expected to earn the starting gig.

Edmonds, a 2018 fourth-round pick out of Fordham, had a career season in 2020, finishing with 850 yards from scrimmage and five total touchdowns. However, he mostly platooned with Kenyan Drake, and while the veteran may have left Arizona this past offseason, the team still replaced him with former Steelers starter James Conner.

However, Conner dealt with a long list of injuries during his stint with Pittsburgh, and sources tell Beasley that the free agent addition was already banged up at the beginning of minicamp. While it was assumed that Conner would be replacing Drake, his injury concerns could result in him serving primarily as a backup in 2021. Plus, as Beasley notes, the organization’s decision to pass on a running back during this year’s draft (coupled with Conner’s low salary) is a strong indication that they’re committed to Edmonds as their starter.

Really, the competition in the Cardinals running back room will come toward the end of the depth chart. Behind Edmonds and Conner, the likes of Jonathan Ward, Eno Benjamin, Tavien Feaster, and Khalfani Muhammad are competing for only a couple of roster spots.

Contract Details: Conner, Cockrell, Stephen

We’ve compiled a handful of details on recent contracts, including the newest member of the Cardinals offense:

  • James Conner, RB (Cardinals): One-year deal. Deal is worth $1.75MM, including $500K signing bonus and fully guaranteed $1.25MM salary. Via ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Twitter.
  • Ross Cockrell, CB (Buccaneers): Two-year deal. Contract is worth $2.11MM. League-minimum salaries in both 2021 ($990K) and 2022 ($1.12MM). Up to $450K in playing-time incentives each season. Via Greg Auman of The Athletic on Twitter.
  • Shamar Stephen, DT (Broncos): Signed. One year, $2MM deal, including $750K guaranteed. $415K signing bonus, $1.075MM base salary (of which $335K is guaranteed), $30K per-game roster bonuses (up to $510K max). Via Mike Klis of 9News in Denver on Twitter.

NFC West Notes: 49ers, Wright, Conner

Of the three high-end quarterback prospects expected to be available to the 49ers at No. 3 overall, Justin Fields has lagged behind the other two — Trey Lance and Mac Jones — in terms of being linked to San Francisco. But Kyle Shanahan has reached out to Fields’ pre-draft coach, former NFL QB John Beck, at points this offseason. Beck has overseen Fields’ pre-draft preparations and has taken over that role for Lance in recent weeks. Beck was with Washington when Shanahan served as the team’s OC.

Knowing that I’ve been around (Fields) the last three months, he’ll reach out and just want to ask questions or talk,” Beck said, via The Athletic’s Matt Barrows (subscription required) of Shanahan. “And kind of like prod into: What are the things we’re working on, the things that I think having played in his system, having been coached by him, I know how he’s going to coach quarterbacks. I know what he’s looking for.”

Beck, who added that he has also spoken with 49ers assistant GM Adam Peters this offseason, incorporated 49ers concepts into Fields’ first pro day. Peters, 49ers QBs coach Rich Scangarello and college scouting director Ethan Waugh attended Fields’ first pro day. Beck will not attend Fields’ second showcase, but the 49ers will run the workout. Here is the latest from the NFC West:

  • With Trevor Lawrence almost certainly Jacksonville-bound and Zach Wilson on track to join the Jets, the 49ers’ QB preference has emerged as perhaps the draft’s top talking point. Few in the team’s building know which passer Shanahan prefers. He and John Lynch have only told “a couple” of people the quarterback they are targeting, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com said during an appearance on the Rich Eisen Podcast (video link). It will come down to Fields, Lance and Jones. Thus far, Jones may have a slight lead. While Shanahan and Lynch showed rare transparency following their trade up to No. 3, their secrecy within the building will continue to generate interest as to which QB Shanahan wants. Lynch and Shanahan opting to attend Jones’ pro day over Fields’ may have served as an early tell, but the 49ers are attending Fields and Lance’s second showcases.
  • K.J. Wright expressed interest in returning to the Seahawks but is not keen on taking a discount to re-sign. However, the veteran linebacker may have no choice. Wright may need to accept a deal that slashes his previous pay in half, John Clayton of 710 AM Seattle writes, adding that he is not getting “good vibes” another Wright-Seahawks accord may come to pass. Wright averaged $7MM in salary on his third Seahawks contract, which he signed in 2019. He was interested in joining ex-Seattle DC Dan Quinn in Dallas; nothing has emerged to indicate the Cowboys are pursuing Wright. The Seahawks moving on would make sense. They used a 2020 first-round pick on Jordyn Brooks and have Bobby Wagner signed to the top off-ball linebacker contract. Wright, 31, has played all 10 of his NFL seasons with Seattle.
  • New Cardinals running back James Conner underwent toe surgery recently. He suffered the injury in an ATV accident, he said Tuesday. The former Pro Bowl back is expected to be 100% by training camp.

Cardinals Sign James Conner

That didn’t take long. One day after visiting the Cardinals, running back James Conner agreed to join Kyler Murray & Co. in Arizona (Twitter link via Jay Glazer of FOX Sports). The Cardinals have since confirmed the deal, making the one-year pact official.

Earlier today, we learned that Conner recently underwent surgery to fix a turf toe-type injury. That could help to explain why he was still on the board in mid-April. Fortunately, the injury wasn’t all that serious and Conner is expected to be fully cleared by June.

Conner made his mark in 2018, after emerging from Le’Veon Bell‘s shadow. That year, he rushed for 973 yards on the ground with 12 touchdowns, plus 55 catches for 497 yards. Then, in 2019, he was limited to just 464 yards on the ground and six games, thanks in part to knee and shoulder trouble.

This past year, he was on pace for a 1,000-yard season up until he tested positive for COVID-19 in November. Ultimately, he finished 2020 with 721 yards on the ground and six scores, plus 35 grabs for 215 yards.

The Steelers didn’t show much interest in a reunion, even though Conner always said that he wanted to stay in Pittsburgh for the long haul. Now, he’ll have an opportunity to play in warmer weather as he joins Chase Edmonds, Eno Benjamin, Jonathan Ward, and Khalfani Muhammad in the Cardinals’ running back group. With Conner towards the top, the Cardinals hope to replace the production of Kenyan Drake, who left in free agency to join the Raiders.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

James Conner Underwent Surgery

Running back James Conner underwent surgery this offseason to address a turf toe-type injury (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport). This would help to explain his prolonged and ongoing stint in free agency. 

[RELATED: Cardinals Meet With Conner]

The good news is that Conner’s injury was “very moderate,” according to sources who spoke with Rapoport. Apparently, this took place off of the field while Conner was “riding in a recreational vehicle.” He’s expected to be at 100% health by June, so he should be good to go in advance of training camp.

The Cardinals recently met with the Steelers free agent, a sign that his market is picking up. He’s coming off of a quietly productive year that ended with 721 yards on the ground and six scores, plus 35 grabs for 215 yards. If not for a positive COVID-19 test that cost him some time down the stretch, Conner might have cracked 1,000 yards.

Conner’s best work came in 2018, when he ran for 973 yards and 12 touchdowns with a 4.5 yards per tote average. He was still pretty efficient this past year though, posting a 4.3 ypc.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Cardinals Meet With James Conner

The Cardinals will meet with James Conner today, as Jay Glazer of FOX Sports tweets. This marks Conner’s first known visit of the offseason. 

Conner made his mark in 2018, after emerging from Le’Veon Bell‘s shadow. That year, he rushed for 973 yards on the ground with 12 touchdowns, plus 55 catches for 497 yards. Then, in 2019, he was limited to just 464 yards on the ground and six games, thanks in part to knee and shoulder trouble.

This past year, he was on pace for a 1,000-yard season up until he tested positive for COVID-19 in November. It was a scary situation for the cancer survivor, but, fortunately, he was okay. Ultimately, he finished 2020 with 721 yards on the ground and six scores, plus 35 grabs for 215 yards. The Steelers haven’t shown a ton of interest in re-signing Conner and he remains available for the league’s other 31 teams.

My goal is to win,” Conner said last year when asked about the possibility of a Pittsburgh extension. “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.”

With the Cardinals, he could help replace the production of Kenyan Drake, who has since left to join up with the Raiders. Currently, the Cardinals have Chase Edmonds, Eno Benjamin, Jonathan Ward, and Khalfani Muhammad on the RB depth chart.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC North Notes: Conner, Ravens, Browns

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.

COVID-19 Latest: Bubble, Ravens, Vaccine

Despite skyrocketing COVID-19 numbers nationwide, the NFL’s stance remains that postseason games will occur at team venues. Although no final decision has surfaced, NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills and union president J.C. Tretter providing anti-bubble statements provides a good indication no one- or two-site postseason will commence. This pours cold water on an in-case-of-emergency bubble scenario the league was considering last month. But no real bubble momentum has emerged since the pandemic began.

There’s not magic about a bubble. In fact, there’s the same challenges within a bubble. Let’s be clear: COVID-19 does not fear a bubble,” Tretter said. “The vulnerability inside a bubble is the same, which is full compliance of protocol at all times. We believe that it’s all about compliance, and compliance with the things that we know avoid risk is important, whether you’re all together in an isolated environment, or whether you’re in your community.

It’s all about the daily measures that work — mask-wearing, avoidance of sick individuals, rapid reporting of symptoms, good hand hygiene, physical distance, avoiding those high-risk exposures. Those principles won’t change.”

The NBA’s Orlando bubble produced zero positive COVID tests for several weeks, however, and Major League Baseball’s multi-site bubble setup did not produce a positive case until the Justin Turner saga in Game 6 of the World Series. While the NFL has bulked up its coronavirus protocols as the season has progressed, the league going without a postseason bubble stands to bring greater chances star players miss playoff games — especially with the coronavirus environment having changed since the NBA and MLB postseasons.

Here is the latest from the virus front:

  • The Ravens are steadily seeing players return to work after testing positive for the virus. The team activated Mark Andrews and Matt Judon from its reserve/COVID-19 list Wednesday, putting both starters in line to face the Browns on Monday night. Both players missed two Baltimore games.
  • Ditto for James Conner. After missing the past two Steelers games, Conner is back on Pittsburgh’s active roster after his positive virus test.
  • The Panthers placed eight players on their virus list earlier this week but have since moved one of them back to their active roster. While it is unknown which members of that octet are COVID-positive, Greg Little is not. The Panthers removed the second-year tackle from their virus list Wednesday.
  • Chargers starting tackle Trey Pipkins is back on the virus list. The Bolts placed the second-year blocker on their list for the second time this season. Because he was identified as a close contact of then-COVID-positive center Ryan Groy, Pipkins landed on Los Angeles’ virus list for one day in late October.
  • The NFL is proceeding as if a vaccine will not be available to its players and staff this season. Although multiple vaccines are in the final stages, Sills and the NFLPA concur players should not be receiving vaccines at the same juncture that front-line workers or at-risk members of the population will, Twitter links via the Washington Post’s Mark Maske and SI.com’s Albert Breer. Vaccines, however, figure to have a massive impact on the 2021 season.