James Conner Landing Spots: Ravens, Chargers, Buccaneers could be among potential suitors

What are the potential landing spots for Arizona Cardinals RB James Conner if he leaves via free agency in 2022?

After injuries and ineffectiveness marred his final seasons with the Steelers, James Conner landed with the Arizona Cardinals on a one-year deal during the offseason. Through 12 games in the desert, Conner has surpassed expectations and is currently tied for second in the NFL with 12 rushing touchdowns. Can the Cardinals hang onto him in 2022 NFL free agency? If Conner departs, what are some of his possible landing spots?

Will the Cardinals re-sign James Conner?

While Conner didn’t receive much more than the league minimum from the Cardinals (one year, $1.75 million), he’s become an integral piece of Arizona’s offense. In addition to his dozen rushing scores, the 26-year-old has run for 630 yards while adding 20 receptions, 209 yards, and 2 touchdowns through the air. Conner became an even more critical component for the Cardinals when fellow RB Chase Edmonds went down in Week 9 (although Edmonds could return for Monday Night Football against the Rams).

Arizona will likely express interest in retaining Conner, and they’ll probably attempt to bring back at least one of their RBs (Edmonds is a pending free agent, too). But the Cardinals are only projected to have roughly $21 million in 2022 salary cap space. The club has a bevy of other free agents — Chandler Jones, Christian Kirk, Robert Alford, A.J. Green, Zach Ertz — whom they might deem more important than Conner.

James Conner landing spots

If Conner doesn’t return to the Cardinals, what other teams could be in the mix? Here are five projected destinations for the 2018 Pro Bowler.

The Baltimore Ravens could look to add insurance for a recovering J.K. Dobbins

No team’s backfield has been affected by injury as much as the Ravens’ this year. J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, and Justice Hill all suffered season-ending injuries before Week 1 even got underway. As such, Baltimore has slogged through the season using various combinations of veteran RBs. Currently, the Ravens appear to have settled on Devonta Freeman as their lead back, but he’s clearly not a long-term option.

Dobbins, Edwards, and Hill should hopefully return for the 2022 campaign. But there’s no guarantee they’ll be ready to start the season. Given how frequently the Ravens like to run the ball, they need to ensure their backfield is solidified. Conner would give Baltimore a more-than-serviceable option in the event Dobbins and Co. aren’t ready next year. Even if Dobbins comes back as the lead RB, Conner would make for one of the best backups in the NFL.

Conner would help revamp the Buffalo Bills’ running game

Few teams like to pass the ball more than the Bills. Against the Buccaneers in Week 14, no Buffalo running back even attempted a carry in the first half. The Bills can’t seem to decide which RB they trust. Devin Singletary might be the current choice, but Zack Moss and even Matt Breida have been given opportunities this season. While Buffalo’s offensive line could use some work, perhaps replacing the RB would also help matters.

Additionally, Conner has proven to be on the NFL’s best pass-blocking running backs. Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is fully committed to the pass. Assuming he returns in 2022, that doesn’t figure to change. Blown blocking assignments can instantly ruin passing concepts, but Buffalo could feel secure knowing Conner was in the backfield.

The Los Angeles Chargers are searching for a complement to Austin Ekeler

There’s no disputing that Austin Ekeler has been one of the most productive running backs in the NFL this season. He’s already managed 730 yards and 9 touchdowns on the ground while adding 58 receptions, 535 yards, and 7 more scores in the passing game. Ekeler is a complete back and under contract through 2023.

But Ekeler is only 5’10” and 200 pounds. It seems like the Chargers have consistently been searching for a bigger RB to pair with their incumbent. Since losing Melvin Gordon to the Broncos before the 2020 season, Los Angeles has given carries to the likes of Justin Jackson, Joshua Kelley, Kalen Ballage, and Larry Rountree III. None have found success, so LA could turn to a bruiser like the 6’1″, 230-pound Conner.

Could the Tampa Bay Buccaneers replace Leonard Fournette with Conner?

Leonard Fournette has taken the Buccaneers’ starting running back job and … run with it. Through 13 games, he’s managed 778 rushing yards and 8 rushing scores. Perhaps even more impressive, Fournette leads all RBs in receptions (62) and is fourth at the position in receiving yards (421).

But the win-now Tampa Bay front office might have higher priorities this offseason. While the Buccaneers should have nearly $33 million in cap space, they also have a long list of pending free agents. Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, Ryan Jensen, Alex Cappa, Jason Pierre-Paul, Ndamukong Suh, Carlton Davis, Jordan Whitehead, and others are projected to hit the market in 2022. Maybe Fournette and Conner will end up signing similar contracts. But I’d bet on Conner being the cheaper addition next spring.

The Miami Dolphins’ backfield could use a veteran presence

The Dolphins will have the option of bringing back both Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed in 2022, but they could go in another direction. Miami hasn’t seemed to commit to an individual back recently, and that’s not necessarily the worst plan. But something needs to change, as the Dolphins rank 30th in rushing efficiency per Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric.

Much of that change could occur on Miami’s offensive line, which is among the contenders for the NFL’s worst front five. But the Dolphins could also pursue a veteran running back like Conner as they look to turn the corner. If Miami hopes to be a contender with Tua Tagovailoa, they could add Conner, who has experience playing on multiple playoff teams.

Listen to the PFN Inside Access Podcast!

Listen to the PFN Inside Access Podcast! Click the embedded player below to listen, or you can find the PFN Fantasy Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, and all major podcast platforms.  Be sure to subscribe and leave us a five-star review!

Related Articles