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Cardinals Running Back Outlook: Picking between James Conner and Chase Edmonds

Conner and Edmonds are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents at the start of free agency on March 16

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

James Conner’s first season with the Arizona Cardinals was a success as he finished the 2021 season with 1,127 scrimmage yards and 18 total touchdowns, which was the third-most in the NFL.

Little did any of us expect that a running back that was signed to a bargain one-year $1.75 million deal would yield such incredible results.

He is bulldozing, dynamic running back that is a threat as a ball carrier and pass catcher out of the backfield.

Arizona Cardinals v Tennessee Titans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Fast forward a year later, Conner is now an impending free agent in 2022 and will hit the market next week at the start of free agency if he is not re-signed. The 26-year-old running back has quickly become a fan favorite in Arizona and will garner a lot of interest from other teams if not retained.

Though not as popular, his partner in crime in Chase Edmonds is also scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent and deserves recognition.

The Cardinals’ 2018 fourth-round selection out of Fordham is coming off another quality season as the change-of-pace running back as he had 903 scrimmage yards and set a career-high in rushing yards (592) in 2021.

In his four years in the desert, Edmonds rushed for 1,511 yards, caught 128 passes for 921 receiving yards, and scored 14 total touchdowns.

Arizona Cardinals v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

Considering how little the Cardinals invested in the running back position a year ago with Conner being the highest paid ball carrier on the team, it is fair to assume Arizona will either only keep one of the two or none at all. Expect GM Steve Keim to make a strong offer to Conner.

Pro Football Focus projects James Conner to receive a two years, $13 million ($6.5M per year) with $7.75 million total guaranteed. They project Chase Edmonds to receive a two years, $12 million ($6M per year) with $9 million guaranteed.

The running backs currently under contract for the Cardinals in 2022 includes 2020 seventh-round pick Eno Benjamin and Jonathan Ward, who made the catch of the year against the Cowboys and was extended an exclusive rights free agent tender yesterday.

Jaylen Samuels, the Steelers’ fifth-round selection in the 2018 draft, was signed to a futures deal by Arizona at the end of the 2021 season.

Arizona Cardinals vs Detroit Lions Photo by Amy Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Some top free agent running backs outside of the Cardinals own includes Leonard Fournette, Melvin Gordon, Rashaad Penny, and Raheem Mostert.

The 2022 NFL Draft is loaded with running back talent with Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker III and Iowa State’s Breece Hall as the two most notable players.

Will the Cardinals retain one of their top two running backs of the 2021 season or move in an entirely new direction?

We will find out soon enough.