James Conner signs with Cardinals: ESPN’s Field Yates is reporting the Arizona Cardinals have signed RB James Conner to a one-year deal.
- Keep track of all 2021 NFL Free Agents & Franchise Tags.
- Read the rest of our 2021 NFL offseason and 2021 NFL Draft coverage.
James Conner signs with Cardinals
The Cardinals have had an eventful offseason of notable player personnel additions. Not only did they make a splash with DE J.J. Watt, but they also brought in WR A.J. Green, CB Malcolm Butler, K Matt Prater, and C Rodney Hudson via a trade with the Raiders, amongst others. The latest signing comes in the form of RB James Conner, formerly of the Steelers.
Conner’s signing is one that makes sense considering the departure of RB Kenyan Drake in free agency. While the 25-year-old back comes with injury concerns, missing nine games since the start of the 2019 season and 14 total in his four-year career, he also brings a high ceiling.
While Conner only totaled 936 yards (215 receiving) and six touchdowns in 13 games, he popped back in 2018, his best year as a pro. In that season, Conner rushed 215 times for 973 yards with 12 touchdowns while adding a 55/497/1 line on 71 targets as a receiver in 13 appearances. A healthy Conner can flash as one of the league’s most productive backs. However, if he’s banged up, his upside is diminished.
Conner joins a Cardinals backfield that already employs Chase Edmonds, Eno Benjamin, and Jonathan Ward. While many have clambered for the Cardinals to deploy Edmonds as the full-time starter or draft a running back, I believe Conner can get the job done in the Drake role.
Conner is a bigger back than Drake. Although they are both 6-foot-1, Conner weighs 233 pounds while Drake hovers around 211. Therefore, I can see Conner slated in Drake’s vacant early-down role while Edmonds handles his normal role as the passing-down back. Sure, Edmonds has impressed when his number was called upon to be the starter, but the belief is that’s when the impending fourth-year pro is at his best, utilized as a reliable pass-catcher who can play well in sporadic opportunities as the RB1.
It is important to note that both Conner and Edmonds are entering contract years. While running back is not a priority addition for the Cardinals in the upcoming NFL Draft, they can still target one early, especially if talent falls. It would be a luxury add for 2021 considering their current running back room but would make both Conner and Edmonds expendable next offseason, allowing the team to use that cap space to improve elsewhere.
Cardinals 2021 NFL Betting Outlook
Arizona Cardinals to Win Super Bowl 56 (+3300)
(Odds courtesy of PointsBet)
I normally wouldn’t discuss a wager that I believe could hit at this point. However, I am going to go out on a limb and talk about why the Cardinals are poised to contend for Super Bowl 56.
I will also tell you why placing a moderate wager on the Cardinals to win the Super Bowl getting (+3300) odds is a terrific idea in the same context.
Last season, the Cardinals entered their second year with HC Kliff Kingbury and QB Kyler Murray. In that 2020 campaign, the Cardinals finished 8-8 and just missed the playoffs, they opened the year strong with a 6-3 record. In the second half, the team collapsed, primarily to due Murray getting banged up, ending 2020 on a regressive 2-5 note.
While they were a middling team, the Cardinals finished 13th in PPG (25.6) and 13th in poised allowed (22.9). Moreover, five of their eight losses were decided by fewer than eight points, essentially one possession if they score a touchdown and two-point conversion. Going deeper, three of those five games were decided by field goals. If the ball bounced the Cardinals’ way a few times, they would have been a postseason club.
The Cardinals were better than their record in 2020.
A young team with room to grow, the Cardinals were wise with their player additions. Not only can J.J. Watt make a difference on the field, but future Hall of Famer could also help the defense in the locker room and in the film room.
There is nothing the former Defensive Player of the Year hasn’t seen. I can say the same about the A.J. Green signing. Sure, he is not the same player as he was in his prime, but he will have a vastly different role in Arizona. Green will no longer be employed as the No. 1 wide receiver like he was in Cincinnati. That job belongs to DeAndre Hopkins, who will also draw the double-coverage more times than not. Therefore, while Green is playing on the back nine of his career, he will have an easier time getting open as long as his health is intact. Like it or not, Green is an upgrade over Christian Kirk and the 2020 version of Larry Fitzgerald.
Other notable additions like C Rodney Hudson will upgrade an Arizona offensive line that finished 2020 ranked as the 12th best in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus while RB James Conner, when healthy, is as productive as they come at running back.
What do Watt, Green, and Conner have in common? High ceiling and an injury-plagued past. If those players can remain healthy for the better part of the season, the Cardinals have a legitimate shot at making a run.
If you are looking to place a bet on a sleeper team to emerge and win Super Bowl 56, I am all-in on the Cardinals. While they have some holes, they can enter the NFL Draft with the mindset of adding win-now players over players that can help them down the road. They are in a terrific spot.