Arizona Cardinals May Have to Choose Between James Conner and Chase Edmonds

Conner and Edmonds
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This off-season projects to be full of tough personnel decisions for the Arizona Cardinals. The cap may be going up, but several cap hits for key players are also increasing in Arizona. With players like DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt set to have their hits double this year, Arizona is going to be pinching some pennies in the off-season. Subsequently, one of the NFL’s most loaded rosters faces significant turnover. At the running back position, the Cardinals may have to decide between James Conner and Chase Edmonds; the duo of Conner and Edmonds is equal parts popular and productive in the desert. The Cardinals will face a challenge to retain both. This off-season, re-signing Conner has to take precedent, even at the detriment of long-time Cardinal, Edmonds.

Arizona Cardinals May Have to Choose Between James Conner and Chase Edmonds

Contract Years In 2021

One of the biggest obstacles the pair will face to remain in Arizona is that, in the modern game, running back ranks low in terms of its allocation of positional spending; the position sees far too much turnover to invest a tonne of cash there. They moved on from last year’s lead back, Kenyan Drake, after only a year and a half with the team. Fortunately, the decision certainly paid off for Arizona, with the team cashing in on the NFL’s best-value deal of 2021.

The projection was that Edmonds, the in-house guy, would lead. The team brought in Conner, a bigger guy, to compliment Edmonds’ scat-back archetype. It became clear that the pair were being used in tandem, rather than a clear 1-2 hierarchy; the win against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 4 demonstrated the perfect expression of how the Cardinals wanted to use the pair.

Looking at how they performed, there was an enormous gulf in production and performance. However, that’s not necessarily a slight against Edmonds. Edmonds was okay; the impact of his mid-season injury has to be taken into account when reviewing his production, which saw him ranked only top-50 in most major categories. What Conner produced, though, was far beyond what anyone could’ve predicted. A man playing on a sub-$2m deal led his team, and briefly the entire league, in both total and rushing touchdowns. He was excellent, Arizona’s most consistent offensive player, and arguably the best player on the entire team in 2021.

Arizona’s top backfield pair cost the team a little less than $3m collectively in 2021. Getting what they got out of Conner for $1.75m was impressive, but Edmonds still performed solidly for a guy earning only a touch over $1m for the year.

What Do Conner and Edmonds Mean To Arizona In 2022

Head coach Kliff Kingsbury wants to bring the duo back to Arizona, saying as much in the media. Finances aside, it’s easy to understand why, schematically, Kingsbury wants to retain both backs. The pair are a perfect compliment to one another. Although Conner’s role ended up being far greater, one of his greatest values to this team is his size; he outweighs Edmonds by over 20lb. Yes, he achieved more in 2021, but the Cardinals certainly used Conner in the short-yardage situations he was brought in for. It is this usage that saw Conner rank second for touchdowns in the league, despite averaging only 3.7 yards per carry. He is the power back that Arizona has been crying out for in recent years.

The potential of the two as a tandem was truly realized against the Rams. Edmonds dominated in terms of yardage, racking up a 120-yard game on only 12 carries. Comparatively, Conner carried 18 times for only 50 yards but notched two touchdowns while averaging only 2.8 yards per carry. The pair were a vital component in a comprehensive offensive display for the Cardinals, in what was arguably their most impressive win of the season.

Conner and Edmonds are the perfect complements for one another. Edmonds has one of the highest yards per carry averages in the NFL. He also led the league in rushes over 20 yards since 2019. Comparatively, Conner’s yards per carry is worrying, albeit an altogether misleading statistic. Conner capitalizes on the potency of Arizona’s passing attack; sometimes, that 3.7-yard average is all Conner needs to score. The balance in Arizona’s backfield provides some much-needed balance to Kingsbury’s ‘Air Raid’ offense.

What Are Conner and Edmonds Worth On The Open Market

Ideally, Arizona will be able to bring both Conner and Edmonds back. However, considering projected market value, re-signing the pair might be out of the realms of possibility for Arizona. According to Spotrac, Edmonds has a value of $5.2m per year; Conner is only marginally more expensive at $5.9m per year. As much as the Cardinals consider the two a pair, it may come down to comparing them to make a decision going forward.

Given the season he just had, the Cardinals have to prioritize Conner, not only as a running back but as one of their most important free agents. Although the two complement each other excellently, Conner proved, in his time as the lead back, that he can do many of the things that suppose to set Edmonds apart. Notably, this pertains to Conner’s ability to be an asset in the passing game, a necessity in this offense. Unfortunately, while Conner can do the things Edmonds does, the former Cardinals draft pick doesn’t have the size to replicate Conner’s production in the short field. It’s why Conner was brought in and could be why he is prioritized.

The team wants the pair back. However, if it comes down to it, the team has to choose Conner. How the two have performed might force this decision. If the Cardinals have to pay up for Conner, considering the year he just had, then they should allocate more of the budget to him, within reason. In Edmonds’ case, he might be too good, and therefore too expensive to bring back alongside Conner; the Cardinals can’t pay him what he’s worth. In addition, the Cardinals have Eno Benjamin waiting in the wings, who could step up to replicate Edmonds’ role in the offense.

Conner has told Cardinals media he wants to return to the Cardinals, a vital eventuality in a key year for Arizona. Although the Cardinals have spent time grooming Edmonds for a starring role, the team may be running out of time to realize this.

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