Who Can Replace James Conner?
The Pittsburgh Steelers stormed out to an 11-0 record at the beginning of the 2020 season and were among the midseason favorites to make a Super Bowl run. Ultimately, the team fell apart down the stretch with a 1-4 record and a Wild Card round exit to their division rival, the Cleveland Browns.
The organization is in a world of trouble with the salary cap for the upcoming season, and it is going to be extremely difficult for this franchise to reload and win back to back AFC North titles. Per overthecap.com, the team is already $30 million over the salary cap heading into free agency. With their offensive stars (James Conner & JuJu Smith-Schuster) heading to the open market, Pittsburgh will need to get creative if they want to maintain their current level of competitiveness in 2021.
2020 team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
James Conner is a free agent and leaves Pittsburgh with a hole at running back. Although they drafted Anthony McFarland with a fourth-round pick last season, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to bring in a veteran as the former-Maryland back continues to adjust to the NFL.
This signing would’ve been a lot more manageable before Playoff Lenny took over the postseason and won a ring with Tampa Bay, but he can run and catch the check-down effectively and will only be 26 when the 2021 season kicks off.
2020 team: Kansas City Chiefs
This would be quite the return to the scene of the crime story for the Steelers and Le’Veon Bell, but one that could make sense. Bell will be 29 by the time the season comes around, but his value has never been lower in NFL circles.
He was cut by the Jets mid-season and then saw his Kansas City role vanish in the playoffs. He’s proven that he can flourish in this Pittsburgh offense, and maybe this can become an absence that makes the heart grow fonder situation. If Bell ever wants a workhorse role in the NFL, Pittsburgh would be a fine place to look.
2020 team: Carolina Panthers
Davis showed the NFL world what he could do as a three-down back in 2020 while taking over Carolina’s backfield during Christian McCaffrey’s absence. The six-year veteran started 12 games for the Panthers and performed admirably during his extended stint as the starter
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The Steelers should be extremely interested in a back with Davis’ skillset. He would be the perfect complementary piece as Anthony MacFarland continues to learn and grow in the offense. Another plus for the Steelers is Davis’ lack of name-value compared to Fournette or Bell. It will depress his value in the open market and make him a steal (hopefully for Pittsburgh) when free agency opens.
2020 team: Carolina Panthers
Pittsburgh’s offense could begin to be backup-Carolina North by the 2021 season if they go the route I’m thinking. Honestly, though, Samuel should be a huge priority for this team. He can bring it in the rushing and receiving game to provide a dynamic factor to the Steeler’s offense. In 2020, Samuel had 118 touches for 1,051 yards and five touchdowns.
Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool are more than capable of handling the outside receiver roles, and that would leave A LOT of room for Samuel to maneuver. There will be several teams after a player of Samuel’s ability and skillset, but he could be an excellent complementary weapon in the Steel City.
2020 team: Indianapolis Colts
Would Hilton leave Indianapolis if he thought Pittsburgh offered a better chance to snag a ring? He’s coming off back-to-back seasons with Jacoby Brissett and Philip Rivers tossing him the football. Roethlisberger would easily be his best quarterback since a fully healthy Andrew Luck in 2018.
It probably makes the most football sense for Hilton to return to the Colts and the team he has called home for his entire nine-year career in the pros. However, he would go from the No. 1 receiver to a complementary piece of the offense and could thrive in the middle of the field without the pressure and attention of being a primary pass catcher. Big Ben distributes the ball all over the gridiron, and Hilton could be a short-term receiver to boost the Steeler’s wide receiving corps during the twilight of Roethlisberger’s career.