Player: James Conner
Position: Running Back
Free Agent Status: Unrestricted
2020 Salary Cap Hit: $1,001,572
2020 Season Breakdown:
Considering the fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers finished dead last in rushing during the 2020 season, it’s more or less implied that things could have gone better for James Conner in the final season of his rookie contract, as he prepares to hit the open market for the first time as an unrestricted free agent.
With that said, his play on the field was the least of the team’s problems as far as the running game goes. He still managed to rush for 721 yards on 169 attempts, averaging 4.3 yards per carry, along with six rushing touchdowns.
He did that in 13 games, missing two games due to Covid-19 and another game due to injury, while being limited in other games because of this or that. He actually missed the majority of the season opener due to an ankle injury.
But he came back from that a week later and rushed for over 100 yards. He did it again the following week, and then again two weeks later. He was among the NFL’s leading rushers about a month into the year, totaling 369 yards in five games with four scores.
It was shortly after that that the running game tanked, and the Steelers would frequently total under 100 total rushing yards per game—usually even under 50. A lot of that had to do with moving away from the run, of course, but it was also about struggles and lack of availability.
Conner didn’t have a big year as a receiver, either, just 35 catches for 215 yards and zero scores. He did better in fewer games in this arena last season, including three touchdowns.
Free Agency Outlook:
Conner is not going to fetch anywhere near the top of the market for running backs, with seven running backs earning $12 million per season or more. There is a growing middle class with about a dozen backs making in the ballpark of $4-8 million per year.
That’s probably where he’s going to end up, somewhere between $5-7 million per season on average, I think. There are plenty of teams with a lot of cap space, even this offseason, who need help on the ground, like the New York Jets.
One thing he does have going for him is that when he is on the field, his tape is pretty good. There are definitely times that he looks like the best player on the field. Perhaps it’s a compliment to him that he ran as well as he did last year against this Steelers line. But health will hold teams back when it comes to throwing money at him.