The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2020 season is now in the books, and it ended in spectacular fashion—though the wrong kind of spectacular—in a dismal postseason defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Browns, sending them into an early offseason mode after going 12-4 in the regular season and winning the AFC North for the first time in three years.
After setting a franchise record by opening the year on an 11-game winning streak, they followed that up by losing three games in a row, going 1-4 in the final five games, with only a 17-point comeback staving off a five-game slide. But all the issues they had in the regular season showed up in the postseason that resulted in their early exit.
The only thing facing them now as they head into 2021 is more questions, and right now, they lack answers. What will Ben Roethlisberger do, and what will they do with him? What will the salary cap look like? How many free agents are they going to lose? Who could they possibly afford to retain? Who might they part ways with—not just on the roster, but also on the coaching staff?
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: Where will James Conner be playing in 2021?
While the Steelers have lost a few significant names in free agency, specifically outside linebacker Bud Dupree, cornerback Mike Hilton, and offensive lineman Matt Feiler (they of course ended up getting Tyson Alualu back after some convincing), there are still a couple of pretty significant names out there as unrestricted free agents.
Those would be left tackle Alejandro Villanueva and running back James Conner, both of them past Pro Bowlers. At this point, it seems likely that they will probably wait until after the 2021 NFL Draft, which is set to take place in a couple of weeks, at which point teams could unrestricted free agents without it counting against the compensatory formula.
The free agent market was tanked this offseason with the major financial implications of the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw the salary cap figure come in at about $25 million under what would have been expected during a normal offseason.
Conner is a starter-quality player whose main hurdle has been his health. He did show that he can stay healthy for the most part in 2020 (disregarding his Covid-19 illness), though he did get dinged up a couple of times.
As time continues to go by, one can’t help but wonder if he could still somehow end up back in Pittsburgh, though I still think that’s unlikely, and there’s always a second wave of signings after the draft. So far, however, there hasn’t been much word on his market.