In 2019, the running back had just 464 yards for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
That was a down year after tallying 973 rushing yards in his sophomore season.
Last year, he led the Steelers in rushing with 721 yards.
However, the team was largely criticized for the lack of a run game.
The Steelers were able to stretch their win streak to 11 games despite minimal production from the backfield.
But that Achilles heel went back to bite them in the postseason.
Despite playing at home, they lost to division rival Cleveland Browns in their Wild Card game, 48-37.
In that game, the Steelers had 52 total rushing yards, 37 of which were from Conner.
He did score a rushing touchdown, but they were outplayed by the Browns backfield (126 yards, two touchdowns).
Conner’s stint in Steel City came to an end when he was not offered a contract extension and the team drafted Najee Harris.
He’s heading to the Arizona Cardinals, though, as he signed a one-year, $1.75 million deal.
With his stint at The Valley looks like a rental, his performance will determine if he will get an extension or if another team will snap him.
The Reality Conner Is Facing
It will be an uphill battle for Conner to gain significant playing time because he is currently second on the depth chart behind Chase Edmonds.
If the order stays that way, Conner will see fewer snaps or will have to share the field with Edmonds on certain plays.
Likewise, Edmonds is also on a contract year which will motivate him to prove that he deserves to be the top running back.
If he showed that convincingly, Conner’s value diminishes.
We have activated RB James Conner, TE Darrell Daniels, DL Leki Fotu and S Charles Washington from the Reserve/COVID-19 list.
We have also released WR Aleva Hifo, DL Darius Kilgo, RB Ito Smith and WR JoJo Ward.
— Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) August 16, 2021
There’s also the dynamic that quarterback Kyler Murray is agile enough to take off and run whenever the pocket collapses.
Murray was the Cardinals’ second-leading rusher with 819 yards, just 136 yards behind Kenyan Drake.
Therefore, Murray’s versatility lightens the leverage that Conner has for contract negotiations.
A Fair Contract for Conner
As always, NFL teams look at the latest performance for determining a rightful contract.
No wonder players who suddenly became exceptional, especially in the playoffs, can get huge deals.
But general managers structure salaries based on what players with comparable production receive.
Therefore, let’s assume that Conner will deliver the same number of rushing yards he did in his last season with Pittsburgh.
Looking at the individual rushing yards list for 2020, his production is comparable to Gus Edwards’ 723 yards.
Last June, Edwards signed a two-year, $9 million deal which includes a $3.75 million signing bonus and $3.75 million in guaranteed money.
New @AZCardinals RB James Conner is living and playing football outside of Pennsylvania for the first time in his life.
— Ryan Cody (@RyanThomasCody) August 16, 2021
That’s a proper baseline on how Conner’s next contract will look like.
If he produces the same volume of yards, the Cardinals may offer him the same money that Edwards got.
The value adjusts whether he underperforms or exceeds expectations.
Based on his career so far, a two-year deal is fair for Conner.
He can contribute to any team he plays for but not to the level that is worthy of a long-term commitment.
There’s still a chance that he can have a breakout season with the Cardinals which increases his value.
But the team’s depth chart will prevent him from making the significant jump.