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Every Down, Cardinals Will Soon Need To Figure Out Options At Running Back

Conner, Edmonds free-agent decisions will dictate potential draft pick

James Conner is one of many free agents the Cardinals will try to re-sign for 2022.
James Conner is one of many free agents the Cardinals will try to re-sign for 2022.

INDIANAPOLIS – Rachaad White called himself an 'every-down back,' and every running back that talks during the NFL's Scouting Combine usually says the same.

But as the Arizona State product knows well, in the pros, "every down" and "running back" are not often used.  

"Coach Herm (Edwards) and coach Marvin Lewis talked to me about that a lot of times," White said. "That's the nature of the game. You want to keep guys fresh. I just don't want to leave any doubt in my coaches' minds that I can't be on that field on an every-down basis."

The Cardinals aren't just about keeping running backs fresh. They found the perfect duo last season with James Conner and Chase Edmonds. Even though Conner missed two games and Edmonds five games with injuries, the two combined for 1,344 rushing yards, 80 catches for 686 yards, and 20 touchdowns.

But there is a chance both are gone, their free agency fast approaching.

"I think things keep changing philosophically," Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said. "I understand that analytically, it tells you that the best backs come as a whole in rounds three through six, but at the same time, when you have one that is a difference-maker or you think is special or brings something to the table like leadership and toughness, it's hard to put a price on those guys."

Conner, who scored 18 total touchdowns and was the big goal-line and short-yardage back the Cardinals had been missing in the Kliff Kingsbury era, will likely be the higher priority. The reality is third back Eno Benjamin makes more sense filling Edmonds' role if needed than Conner.

"(Conner) had a great role for us," Kingsbury said. "Love everything about him, on the field, off the field, his mentality is what you want in your organization."

Kingsbury reiterated the lament that Conner and Edmonds didn't get a chance to play together as much in the second half of the season, aside from DeAndre Hopkins' injury the biggest reason for offensive struggles.

If either leaves, spending a later draft pick on a running back – like White, who said in Indy he had talked to the Cardinals and would love to stay in Arizona – is possible. But the Cardinals also could look for another veteran as they did last year in finding gold with Conner. The Cards also signed veteran Jaylen Samuels to a futures contract earlier in the offseason.

Kingsbury said Benjamin has "made great strides" and the former ASU back also had a highlight-level TD truck run in San Francisco. His immediate future will depend on Edmonds' eventual choice.

"It's no secret, having James and Chase, in a perfect world, we'd want them both back," Keim said. "But it's a business and we'll see what happens."

A look at the Cardinals' rushing leaders in 2021.