Here's Why the Steelers Shouldn't Give James Conner a Contract Extension Just Yet

Steelers running back James Conner walks off the field with the game ball after a road win over the Chargers.
Steelers running back James Conner walks off the field with the game ball after a road win over the Chargers. / Leon Bennett/Getty Images

Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner has one of the best stories in the NFL. As a standout at University of Pittsburgh, the Pennsylvania native tore his ACL and was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma all in the same season. He made a complete recovery and fended off the cancer before the Steelers selected him in third round of the 2017 Draft.

Conner tore his ACL again in backup duty his rookie season and then took over for Le'Veon Bell when the former Steelers star sat out the 2018 season. The 24-year-old had a terrific sophomore campaign and has been Pittsburgh's lead back ever since. An extension might feel imminent for Conner ahead of his contract year, but the Steelers don't have much reason to take action yet.

Pittsburgh pays pocket change for Conner and wouldn't want it any other way. His annual base salary since arriving in the NFL has always been under $1 million, so why rush this without seeing what he can do in 2020?

The truth of the matter is that Conner is way too fragile to be worthy of a big-time, multi-year extension at the moment. He's played in just 23 games the past two seasons and has yet to appear in 14 games in a single campaign. In the limited action we saw of him in 2019, Conner took a significant dip in both touchdowns and yardage due to injuries while young backs like Jaylen Samuels and Benny Snell Jr. saw an increase in playing time and picked up the slack. Plus, Snell was just drafted last year and has shown he can handle RB1 capabilities, though he does need a bit more experience before taking over full time.

The bottom line is that the Steelers need to see another full productive season out of Conner before guaranteeing him a contract beyond the 2020 season. He's a great player when he's healthy, but that's what's held him back so far and Pittsburgh can't invest in someone who has trouble staying on the field.