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Can Cardinals Put A Price On Productive RB Duo?

James Conner, Chase Edmonds both scheduled free agents after excellent season together

Running backs Chase Edmonds (left) and James Conner provided an excellent 1-2 combination for the Cardinals, but now both are headed to free agency.
Running backs Chase Edmonds (left) and James Conner provided an excellent 1-2 combination for the Cardinals, but now both are headed to free agency.

At the outset of training camp this past season, the questions were common for both James Conner and Chase Edmonds – who was going to be the main running back?

"We're both going to play a lot this year, we're both going to make plays," Conner said, "so 'RB1' really don't mean much."

RB1 might not have meant much, but Conner and Edmonds ended up meaning a whole lot.

That's what will make the next couple of months so interesting.

Both Conner and Edmonds are unrestricted free agents-to-be. Both will be seeking raises, and that makes sense – Conner only got $1.7 million this season, Edmonds in the final year of his rookie deal less than $1M.

The Cardinals were a better team when both played, and the work Conner did solo was notable. Because of injuries, the two only played two full games together in November, December and January – the loss in Detroit and the playoff loss in Los Angeles, in which Conner was clearly dealing with a painful ribs issue.

In 15 games, Conner had 752 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns, and another 37 catches for 375 yards and three touchdowns. He was named to the Pro Bowl. Edmonds, in 12 games (and he only played in one snap of the 12th) had 592 yards rushing and two touchdowns, along with 43 receptions for another 311 yards.

"They both earned good deals as far as I'm concerned," coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "I hope we can afford both guys because they both had fantastic seasons and they both deserve to get nice contracts. I would love to get both back. I think they complement each other very well."

How the Cardinals spend money this offseason and how much they would be willing to give to a running back (or two) remains to be seen. Although neither Conner or Edmonds are in the same position as David Johnson was following the 2016 season, the Cardinals were burned by a big-money running back contract.

They also let Kenyan Drake go last season when his price grew as a free agent. But in Drake's case, the Cardinals were also looking for more of a physical back to pair with Edmonds. It's why Conner became the perfect solution.

With Edmonds, the Cards could in theory turn to Eno Benjamin for that role, although Benjamin at this point isn't as accomplished as a receiver or, more importantly, a pass protector in blitz pickup as Edmonds has been.

What the market might bear for both will be fascinating to watch. Both are in their prime (Conner will be 27 next season, Edmonds will be 26).

The offense was better with two effective running backs. The Cardinals will know by mid-March if those backs will be Conner and Edmonds – or at least one of the two – in 2022.

"Huge fans of both those guys," Kingsbury said. "You can't ask for two guys that work harder or do things the right way."