James Conner has found a new home as the 25-year-old running back has agreed to terms with the Arizona Cardinals on a one-year deal, the team announced Tuesday. This signing comes off the heels of Conner flying in to visit with the team on Monday, so the back clearly impressed during his one-on-one time with the club. This signing also puts an official end to Conner's time in Pittsburgh after spending the first four years of his career with the Steelers following his selection in the third round of the 2017 draft.
Arizona was in the market for a running back after losing starter Kenyan Drake to the Las Vegas Raiders earlier in free agency. As it previously stood, Chase Edmonds was being looked at as the potential Week 1 starter at the position, but the addition of Conner now gives the club another back with starting experience to absorb some of the carries Drake left behind. Conner has started 33 regular-season games throughout his career and, when healthy, has proven to be a strong piece to an offense.
This marriage between Conner and the Cardinals does have some familiarity for both sides thanks to running backs coach James Saxon. The longtime assistant 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 likely looks 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 continued 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. Given that Conner needed to undergo a physical with the Cardinals, the injury doesn't appear to have caused any speedbumps in his signing, which echoes Rapoport's characterization of the injury being minor. He also noted that Conner is expected to make a full recovery.
With that clean bill of health and this reunion with Saxon, Conner is well-positioned to enjoy a bounce-back season with the Cardinals in 2021.