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Predicting the possibility of a contract for James Conner with the Steelers

If the Steelers and Conner were to come to deal this offseason, what would it look like?

Pittsburgh Steelers v New York Jets Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2020 offseason has progressed appropriately since the beginning of the league year. With a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in place, the Steelers were able to restructure contracts, offer tenders, use the franchise tag, sign free agents, make their draft selections, and get their undrafted rookie free agents under contract. With a focus on getting their draftees under contract in the coming weeks, the Steelers will also be looking to sign some players to either a new contract or a contract extension.

While some of these new deals may not come until the summer, it’s not out of the question for player representatives and the Steelers to be working on something now. With that said, which Steelers going into the last year of the current deal are likely to be given a new contract before the 2020 season begins?

Rather than focus on all the players, let’s tackle one at a time. With each player, it will first be determined if they should receive a new deal along with how much would be a fair contract to both parties. This exercise is meant to just be fun and speculative as we all get to play general manager and salary cap guru for a day. The biggest question with the remaining players is if a contract would be better before this season or next offseason.

If you wish to give a basic contract answer without diving too deep into numbers, simply skip over the italicized section. If you are the kind of person who would like to see how the contract would affect the salary cap, here it is...

Coming up with an exact contract can be tricky. Rather than get into roster and work out bonuses or different amounts per season, we’re going to estimate the salaries as simply as possible. For whatever deal the player gets, the first year will have all but $1 million put into a signing bonus which will get spread over the life of the contract. For example, if a player were to sign a three-year contract for $10 million per year, the first year would have a $1 million base salary and a $9 million signing bonus. Therefore, the bonus would be spread out to $3 million over each season where the player would count $4 million dollars for 2020 and $13 million for the other two years.

One other factor which needs to be considered is if the player brings any dead money from the previous contract. To account for this in a simple manner, throw it into the salary cap hit for the first year of the players deal. Using the above example, if a player had $4 million in dead money on their last contract, the salary cap hit for their first year would be $8 million.

After looking at a deal for: Cam Heyward, Bud Dupree, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Alejandro Villanueva, and Matt Feiler, now let’s see what kind of contract Steelers’ fans would like to work out with James Conner now rather than play the 2020 season before making a decision.

James Conner

Age: Just turned 25 last week
Years: 3
Draft: 3rd round, 105th overall
Previous Contract: Rookie deal
2020 salary cap hit: $1,001,572
Dead Money: $176,572

Other top contracts average per year (AYP) at the running back position according to

Christian McCaffrey: $16 million
Ezekiel Elliott: $15 million
Le’Veon Bell: $13.125 million
David Johnson: $13 million
Derrick Henry: $10.278 million (franchise tag)
Kenyan Drake: $8.483 million
Melvin Gordon: $8 million

Conner ranked 21st among all qualifying NFL running backs in 2019 according to Pro Football Focus. Here are the players under contract beyond their rookie deals who ranked closely to Conner:

15. Duke Johnson: $5.2 million
19. Latavius Murray: $3.6 million
20. Le’Veon Bell: $13.125 million
22. David Johnson: $13 million
24. Tevin Coleman: $4.25 million
26. Kenyan Drake: $8.483 million

Notes: This is a very interesting scenario as many Steelers’ fans do not feel Conner will get a contract after the 2020 season, let alone before. Missing a number of games each year, there is a reason to be concerned and why the 2020 season would help give more data to determine if the investment is worthwhile. But is there a cheap enough deal the Steelers could offer to make it worth their while before the 2020 season?

So now it’s deal time! Perhaps the first question should be a completely different game show: Deal or no deal? Should the Steelers look to sign James Conner before the 2020 season? If so, what should the deal look like? Please leave your response with the number of years and the average salary per season in the comments below.

Next time on Let’s Make A Deal: Mike Hilton.