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Conner Proves to be Top Value Free-Agent Signing

All 12 of running back James Conner’s rushing touchdowns have come in the red zone with nine inside the 10-yard line.

When the 2021 NFL league year opened on March 17, it’s safe to say there weren’t a long line of suitors lined up at James Conner’s door.

The Cardinals are surely glad that was the case as the running back acknowledged, “My options were limited.”

Watching him play, even with the Steelers, it’s hard to believe that was the case. Yes, injuries affected him during his time in Pittsburgh, and limited his games to 50 of a possible 64 in four seasons.

But, when he played, he was productive. In 2018, Conner rushed for 973 yards (4.5 per carry) and scored 12 touchdowns. He added a touchdown receiving while catching 55 passes for 497 yards.

Last season, he rushed for 721 yards (4.3 average) and had six touchdowns.

It took almost a month, but Conner finally signed a 1-year contract with the Cardinals on April 13 for a modest $1.75 million guaranteed with a $500,000 signing bonus. It’s surely hard to imagine the Cardinals being 9-2 without him. That contract, coupled with his performance, has to rank as one of the best value signings in the league.

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Conner has totaled 728 yards from scrimmage (555 rushing, 173 receiving) and scored 13 touchdowns (12 rushing). The 13 touchdowns is tied for third in the NFL behind Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis, 16 and Austin Ekeler, L.A. Chargers, 14. Cincinnati’s Joe Mixon also has 13. His 12 rushing scores is second behind Taylor’s 14.

Most significant is that the Cardinals are currently third in the NFL in red-zone touchdown percentage (70.5), reaching the end zone on 31-of-44 trips. All 12 of Conner’s rushing touchdowns have been from inside the 20 and nine have come from inside the 10 with six from the 1-yard line.

While Conner said Tuesday his potential red-zone ability wasn’t discussed when he signed, he did note, “I think maybe they knew I could be a piece in that, but they kept it simple. They said they liked my style of play, so I trusted the plan they had for me. When everybody's on the same page, you get to where we're at now. We still got a long way to go, but I just came and wanted to play my best football. I wouldn't want to be nowhere else right now.”

The Cardinals will have numerous decisions to make after the season related to players with expiring contracts, but Conner hopes to be back.

“I want to win a Super Bowl here,” he said. “I love the weather and everything this team has going. With my teammates and my coaching staff, I don't see why I wouldn't want to be here. We have all the resources, everything we need to be successful.

“So, we're going to take it one week at a time. First, we got a big game in Chicago coming up. But after the season, I got a lot of love for the Cardinals. So we'll see what happens.”