James Conner continues to leave his imprint on Cardinals entering contract year

May 30, 2024, 9:34 AM | Updated: May 31, 2024, 12:37 pm

TEMPE — Throughout all the change within the Arizona Cardinals’ organization over the past couple of years, running back James Conner has remained a constant.

And it’s not hard to see why.

Conner has been leading voice in the locker room.

If you ever need a refresher on the kind of mindset head coach Jonathan Gannon wants in a player, look no further than No. 6.

“I think the first thing is his heart. He truly cares about the team like you want him to care about the team,” Gannon said Tuesday. “He puts himself behind the team. Then I would go to his actions on a daily basis. Does everything you want him to do the right way.

“If I was telling my 8-year-old, ‘Hey if you come practice, and you look out there and follow one guy,’ (Conner would) be in that conversation. And I think his willingness to grow and improve his game, even being the successful, unbelievable player that he’s been … he’s always trying to tinker and get better and learn more and grasp more and understand the ‘why’ better. It’s really special to see.”

While Conner is the epitome of what Gannon wants in his players, the door remains open for a potential departure at the end of the season.

Entering the final year of his contract, Conner will test the open market for the first time since 2021, when he signed with Arizona. That is unless the two sides can agree on a contract extension before then.

“It’d be awesome to finish my career here, but nothing changes,” Conner said. “If anything, it’s time to turn it up even more going into my last year of the deal. I’m thankful to see the last year of it, so going to go into and give it all I got this year and we’ll see what happens next year. Hopefully stay, but I understand the business.”

For most running backs nearing 30 years old, landing that next contract can be tricky.

But from how Cardinals players and coaches rave about Conner and his dedication to his body and mind, he’s not your typical 29-year-old running back.

And if he can duplicate or exceed his marks from 2023 — 208 carries for a career-high 1,040 yards and seven touchdowns — Conner shouldn’t have any problem getting that next contract in Arizona or elsewhere.

“That was the floor. That’s what me and (running backs coach) Autry Denson) talk about,” Conner said. “That’s the floor. I want that to be the lowest I rush for in my career going forward. Definitely got a lot of work to put in, but that’s the floor, not the ceiling.”

More pass-catching on the way for Cardinals’ James Conner?

Outside of his rookie season in which he saw one target, Conner hadn’t seen as few across his seven-year career as in 2023 (33).

And even though Conner made the most of those limited looks with 27 receptions for 165 yards and two scores, the Cardinals are hoping to utilize his pass-catching abilities more in 2024.

“I always think their games can go to another level. I think a major point for me for him was in the pass game,” Gannon said Tuesday. “I think he can be more productive in the pass game and we got a plan for him to do that. He’s a big guy that’s hard to tackle. He’s explosive and he’s a really good player.”

Sounds good to Conner.

“Challenge accepted for sure,” the running back said. “I definitely want to be there to help make plays. I feel like I’m capable of making plays in the passing game. That’s why we’re working. That’s why we’re here during OTA periods. We’re working on it and we’ll carry it through training camp and into the season. Challenge accepted.”

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