The last time the Pittsburgh Steelers' top running back neared the end of his contract, things got squabbley with Le'Veon Bell. This time around, it should be different with James Conner.
Entering the final year of his contract, the running back, who spent his college career at Pitt, during which he battled through cancer, before being selected by the Steelers, told ESPN he can't see himself playing anywhere else.
"It would be hard to (imagine playing anywhere but Pittsburgh)," he said. "It'd be hard to put another helmet on because of everything this city means to me. This city, I played my college ball in. This city, I got my life saved in, became healthy, the city I got drafted to and I want to be able to say the city I brought a championship to. It would be hard. I'm Pittsburgh through and through."
Conner is coming off an injury-plagued 2019 campaign that saw him miss six games. The RB has yet to play a full 16-game slate through his first three years.
The 25-year-old back, who can burst through arm-tackles and be the engine of the offense when healthy, is out to prove he deserves a chance to show the injuries were an aberration.
"Every time I go out there and play every year, I just look forward to that opportunity," Conner said, noting his contract status doesn't impact his plans. "You have to perform. At the end of the day, that's all it's about. I have to perform every year that I'm there, whether it's a contract year, whether it's my second year, third year. At the end of the day, you have to perform. I want to perform more; I've gone through some injury things. But I truly believe when I put a full season together it's something special. So I'm not concerned about it being my contract year."
Given the difficulties running backs have had getting big contracts, the best Conner can do is perform well and put the Steelers in a position to make a tough choice on letting their top back walk or potentially pay a premium at the position. With Conner's heart in Pittsburgh, it's possible a proverbial hometown discount could be in the cards at some point down the road.
With Benny Snell, Jaylen Samuels and rookie Anthony McFarland among the other backs on the depth chart, Conner should get the chance to carry the load if he can stay healthy.