James Conner recently expressed his desire to remain in Pittsburgh, but here’s why he must accept a smaller role with the Steelers to do so.
Regardless of what NFL team you like, it’s impossible not to root for a player like James Conner. After defeating cancer, Conner went on to be drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the third-round back in 2017 and became a Pro Bowl running back by his second season in the league.
Recently, Conner expressed his interest to remain in Pittsburgh following the 2020 season. Here’s some of what he had to say on The Adam Schefter Podcast:
"“It will be hard to put another helmet on, just because of everything and what this city means to me. This city I played my college ball in, had my life saved, the city I got drafted to — and I want to be able to say it’s the city I brought a championship to. I’m Pittsburgh through and through. I’m going to end up doing what I’m doing and end up where I’m supposed to be at. We’ll take it one day at a time and stay in the moment.”"
Conner didn’t go as far as to say that he will do what it takes to stay in Pittsburgh and the fact that he said “it will be hard to put another helmet on” makes me think that he knows his time with the Steelers is going to be coming to an end.
So is there anything the two sides can do to keep the Pittsburgh native around long-term?
Essentially, it would come down to him being willing to accept a smaller role with the team, and with that, a smaller paycheck than he may be able to receive elsewhere.
While Conner proved to be a very good football player for the Steelers, he isn’t without his flaws. He doesn’t possess top-end speed to take advantage of big holes and he’s only average at making defenders miss in space. Perhaps his biggest flaw is his inability to stay healthy. Conner has just 37 of a possible 48 games in his first three seasons.
On the open market, Conner has the track record to possibly earn a starting role and good money for another team. Though he won’t get anything close to what Le’Veon Bell got from the New York Jets, he can make more what the Steelers could afford to offer him.
Pittsburgh needs to be careful with their spending, and cornerstone players like T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, David DeCastro, Cam Heyward, and JuJu Smith-Schuster will all need contracts in the near future – some as early as the 2021 offseason.
It’s going to be hard to find a way to keep James Conner around long term. If he was willing to accept a reduced role and salary in a running back by committee approach, then Pittsburgh may be able to get a deal done. If not, the beloved Steeler will be hitting the road in 2021.