It’s an anxious time for any young player as they enter the final year of their rookie contract. They are, quite frankly, on the precipice of having the first opportunity of their lives to decide who they want to work for, and they have four years to put themselves in the best position to showcase themselves for all the potential candidates.
Some players may not have much, or anything, to prove heading into the final year of their deal. Many of them may have already signed contract extensions. Most, however, will see their contract expire, if it hasn’t already been terminated, and the majority of them will have something to prove.
James Conner of the Pittsburgh Steelers fits into that category. While the running back has a Pro Bowl season under his belt, he already has worked up a lengthy injury list in just three NFL seasons, and a mere 452 touches.
The fourth-year back was recently hosted by Adam Schefter on his podcast to talk about a number of topics, including his new book. Toward the middle of the conversation, the discussed the inevitable uncertainty of his ‘contract year’ and what he expects moving forward.
“My expectations are to control everything I can control, and just put it together and have a good year”, he said. “When I’m out there on the field, I’m one of the best in the game. I know what my work ethic is, I know what my faith is, I’m just gonna go out there and play football like I know how to do, and like I’ve been doing”.
Conner is one of only 11 players to score 20 or more touchdowns over the course of the past two seasons, and he did so in only 23 games. Only Melvin Gordon on that list of players played in fewer than 27 games during that timespan. His production when he has been available is why the team has continued to support him.
“The staff, the whole organization believes in me, my teammates believe in me. That’s really all I need. Family believes in me. And most importantly, I believe in me. So I don’t have no expectations to follow”, he said.
“I honestly just want to give my quarterback and this organization, the team who took a chance on me, even when I had health concerns and issues, they still took a chance on me, so I just wanna get them a ring”, Conner added. “And I know what I’m capable of doing. I’m doing everything I can as far as staying active and body being healthy, go out there, and everything will happen the way it’s supposed to”.
The former third-round pick is coming off an injury-plagued season during which he suffered a series of separate ailments, including a significant shoulder injury in game seven that caused him to miss several weeks and lingered throughout the rest of the year.