NFL free agency 2021: Former Steelers running back James Conner visiting with Cardinals, per report

James Conner is one of the more recognizable faces still sitting out in free agency and waiting to put pen to paper on a new contract. As the 25-year-old waits for that deal to be slid across the proverbial negotiating table, the back is set to get some facetime with a team in need of some help in the backfield. According to Jay Glazer of Fox Sports, Conner is heading to Arizona for a visit with the Cardinals on Monday. 

The club does seem to be in the market for a running back after losing starter Kenyan Drake to the Las Vegas Raiders earlier in free agency. Currently, Chase Edmonds is looked at as the potential Week 1 starter at the position, but adding some high-caliber depth with starting experience wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for Arizona and Conner brings just that. The 2017 third-round pick has started 33 regular-season games throughout his career and, when healthy, has proven to be a strong piece to an offense. 

Not only would Conner fill a need, but the Cardinals do have some familiarity with the player thanks to running backs coach James Saxon. The longtime coach held the same role with the Steelers from 2014-18, which coincided with Conner’s best year as a pro. During that Pro Bowl season in 2018, Saxon watched as Conner totaled 1,470 yards and 13 touchdowns from scrimmage while averaging 5.4 yards per touch. Given that past success under Saxon, Conner could look at Arizona as a strong landing spot to reset his career after back-to-back seasons in 2019 and 2020 that didn’t live up to expectations.

Injuries put a dent in Conner’s previous two seasons, which hurt his efficiency. In 23 games played over that stretch, he totaled 1,185 yards on the ground on a 4.2-yards-per-carry average. His 1,651 yards from scrimmage over that two-year stretch just nearly edges out that career season he enjoyed in 2018. 

This offseason, Conner continues to battle the injury bug. According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, the back underwent surgery to repair a very moderate turf toe-type injury. The procedure occurred earlier this offseason and Conner is said to have suffered the injury while riding a recreational vehicle. Conner will undergo a physical during this visit with the Cardinals, which carries even more weight considering this procedure. That said, Rapoport notes that the injury should give Conner no problems going forward and is expected to make a full recovery. 

As it relates to Conner ultimately signing with the Cardinals, the team could simply be doing their due diligence on a position of need as they wait for the 2021 draft to kick off in just a few weeks. Given the lukewarm market Conner appears to be in, the club may have the flexibility to potentially wait until after the draft to pursue signing him to a deal if they were unsuccessful in filling the roster spot with a young rookie. From Conner’s standpoint, Arizona seems to be one of the better situations for him given the previous relationship with Saxon so it’d behoove him to really impress during this latest visit and provide a clean bill of health. 

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