We knew a little more than two weeks ago that Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner wouldn’t be opting out of the 2020 season due to possible pandemic health fears stemming from him being a cancer survivor several years. Even so, Conner was still asked several times during his Wednesday media session. his first one since training camp got underway, if he ever considered opting out of the 2020 season once the parameters for such were agreed upon by the NFL and NFLPA.
“No, I was excited to get back and be around my teammates and be around football again,” Conner said on Wednesday. “So, still haven’t thought about it and no question, playing this year.”
That answer wasn’t apparently good enough, however, as Conner was asked again later in his Wednesday media session if it was a bit more complicated for him when it came to him possibly opting out of the 2020 season because of him having gone through chemotherapy several years ago as part of his battle against Hodgkin’s lymphoma and how that may or may not have weakened his immune system. He was asked what the possible conversations were like with his family in his attempt to gather as much information as he could prior to the opt out deadline.
“I’m going on four years now removed from cancer,” Conner said. “So, I didn’t have to talk to my family and that was never a concern for me. You know, I’ve been healthy for years now, so, no, it was an easy decision for me. Not much thought went into it. I wanted to play football and I’m healthy, My immune system is back healthy. So, I’m not worried.”
Even Steelers running backs Eddie Faulkner, who also met with the media on Wednesday, was asked about Conner and the possibility of the player deciding to opt out of the 2020 season. To hear Faulkner talk on the topic, he would have been surprised had Conner ultimately decided to opt out of the season.
“You know, the climate being what it is, obviously, and his previous situation being what it was, you know, that could always be a possibility,” Faulkner said. “But knowing his heart and where he’s at and kind of competitor he was, it was never a real thought in my head. I mean, it’s never anything that was even approached in a conversation that he and I had or anything like that. So, to be honest with you, I kind of fully expected him to be a full participant and you know, that’s just how he’s built.”
We’ll now see if Conner is built to stay healthy an entire season, which is something he’s yet to be able to do in his first thee NFL seasons. Conner was essentially asked about his durability to date during his Wednesday media session and if his past injury history caused him to alter in any way how he goes about training and preparing for a season.
“Nah, I just worked hard and that’s all there is to it,” Conner said. “If you just have a work ethic and every year you attack it. Give it all you’ve got in the offseason and prepare for the season. It’s the game of football. Injuries are going to happen, so I don’t really pay no attention to what anybody says, honestly. As long as the people who make the important decisions, they believe in me, that’s really all that matters. But I really don’t care what anybody else thinks. And so, the ones who make all the important decisions they believe in me, I believe in myself. So, I’ll leave it that.”
Conner figures to have every opportunity to be the Steelers featured running back throughput the 2020 season. The important decision makers for the Steelers, most notably general manager Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin, have stated all offseason that they still believe in Conner and that they both think he can return to his 2018 Pro Bowl form in 2020.
Assuming Conner can stay healthy in 2020 and he can put up another 1,400 or more total yards from scrimmage on the season, it could result in him landing a much more lucrative and second NFL contract during the offseason as the University of Pittsburgh product is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March of 2021.