The Pittsburgh Steelers took a stab at resetting the running back market in both 2017 and 2018 while they were negotiating with their former running back, first-team All-Pro Le’Veon Bell. The numbers that they offered him last year, reportedly, would have made him the highest-paid running back of all time. He balked, opting for free agency in 2019, ultimately signing with the New York Jets.
Before he left, however, he formed a bond with his backup, James Conner, who in his absence emerged last season as a Pro Bowler in his own right. They remain close, as far as we know, and as a running back himself, he recently explained that he understands where the likes of Bell, Ezekiel Elliott, and Melvin Gordon are coming from.
Conner was interviewed on the NFL Network yesterday, discussing some different topics pertaining to the team and issues around the league. When it came time to talk about the state of the running back position in light of Elliott’s recent deal and Gordon’s trade request, he had a clear answer.
“Every back you just named, they’re superstars. They each got their own opinion and agenda of what they want, what they feel like they deserve”, he said. “I’m on their side. I’m Team Running Back, so I’m on their team. I’m on their side. They’re all superstars and they’re doing their own thing. We don’t got nobody here holding out, so we just worry about out business, but I’m on their side”.
The running back market had become deflated for a while as philosophies about the position shifted away from the notion of a workhorse back, but as players began to diversify their skillsets so that they could also significantly contribute to the passing game, that helped re-inflate the market, to the point where we have seen some major deals for the likes of Bell, Elliott, and Todd Gurley. I don’t know what Gordon will eventually get, but Saquon Barkley may be the next major name to cash in after a couple more years.
As for Conner himself, he will at least theoretically be due for an extension about a year from now, assuming that he continues to play well. Last season, in his first year as a starter, he made the Pro Bowl, rushing for nearly 1000 yards at 4.5 yards per clip with 12 touchdowns in 13 games. He also had nearly 500 receiving yards and another touchdown.
The preseason indicates that he likely will continue to be the workhorse in 2019 even though the Steelers now have a comfort level in second-year running back Jaylen Samuels, who may see an uptick in his playing time in passing situations, or on the field together.
“We gotta go there and play fearless, do our job, be consistent and make big routine plays. We have a great opportunity we’re gonna take advantage of it.” —@JamesConner_ on #GMFB. pic.twitter.com/BWzmeTKcZp
— GMFB (@gmfb) September 4, 2019