Former Pitt star James Conner signed a one-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals worth $1.75 million on Tuesday after he was cut loose by the Pittsburgh Steelers, bringing an end to an eight-year stay in Pittsburgh for the Erie native. And shortly after the news was announced, Conner said goodbye and thanked Pittsburgh and its people for their support.
“No one [is] more grateful for the city of Pittsburgh than me,” Conner wrote in a message on Twitter. “The last eight years [have] been building and molding me into the man I am today. Excited for what’s ahead but truly thankful for all the love and support during my best moments and most difficult times.”
Conner’s move from western Pennsylvania to the Valley of the Sun marks the end of an era, as he grew up in Erie, just two hours north of Pittsburgh, and then spent four years at Pitt before spending four more with the Steelers. As a result, all of his home games in college and the NFL have been played at Heinz Field before crowds of overlapping Pitt and Steelers fans. And even friends and family in Erie have had easy access to him all of this time.
For the first time in nearly a decade, that will not be the case in the coming season. But Conner will not soon be forgotten in Pittsburgh, as he left a lasting impression. At Pitt, he came to embody perseverance and courage as he publicly fought cancer, won and returned to the gridiron. And with the Steelers, he continued to fight, as he rose from a third-round pick with an uncertain future to the unquestioned “bell cow” of the team and earned a Pro Bowl nod.
Conner earned that trip to the Pro Bowl after running for 973 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2018. Of course, Conner has notably struggled with injuries since that breakout season, but he was trending in the right direction in 2020 and amassed 721 yards and six touchdowns. And as it turned out, that was enough to earn him a shot with the Cardinals organization.
With the Cardinals, Conner will look to rise into a prominent role once more and make a mark on the franchise. But once again, he will face an uphill battle, as he is expected to begin his tenure in Arizona as a complementary back behind presumed starter Chase Edmonds.