With the 2019 season well over, a lot of eyes are looking toward free-agency and the 2020 draft. Teams are needing to fill gaps and add new talent. What better way to do that than to point out who underperformed, at least that’s what Pittsburgh Steelers’ general manager must have thought when he called out James Conner.
He wasn’t wrong, either. Even Conner agreed.
"Conner had a disappointing season in Conner's viewpoint and ours, as well," Kevin Colbert said Thursday, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Our point to James was, 'You had an unfortunate year.' The year before that he was one of the best in the league.'
"He's still a young player. We think there's something there. We know there's talent there. We hope James can regain it. And, if he's healthy, there's no reason he shouldn't. We don't want to say we don't have a starting running back because we feel we do."
Whether it was due to injury, falling down the depth chart, a string of bad games or any number of reasons, these five players will be happy to move on to 2020:
James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Conner became the focal point of the Steelers’ backfield after Le’Veon Bell’s holdout in 2018 and eventual departure. Conner still hit an average of four yards per carry but totaled a lowly 464 yards — a drastic dip after rushing for nearly 1,000 yards last season.
His lackluster year can be traced back to multiple injuries that caused him to miss six games. Conner suffered a knee injury in Week 2 and a shoulder injury in Week 8.
The Steelers are hoping for a healthy Conner this upcoming year.
"I hope we get back to the 2018 James,” Colbert added. “Where that goes, we'll see. But right now, we're worried about 2020."
Trumaine Johnson, CB, New York Jets
You’re really having a bad year if you’re expected to be released. ESPN’s Rich Cimini reported the New York Jets plan on releasing the eighth-year cornerback after spending just two of those seasons with the team. Johnson, who made his way to New York via the Los Angeles Rams, had promise after recording at least 47 total tackles from 2015-17 with the Rams. At least, the Jets paid him as he would.
Johnson got a record-breaking five-year, $72.5-million contract ($34 million guaranteed) in March 2018 but New York has yet to see the return. He’s been a massive flop and just this last season tallied a career-low 25 total tackles and one interception. It didn’t help that Johnson was plagued with injury, either. He started in only 15 out of the 32 possible games as he dealt with ankle issues.
Tavon Austin, WR, Dallas Cowboys
In 2018, the Dallas Cowboys bolstered their receiving corps. One wideout proved to be Dak Prescott’s top target for two consecutive seasons and the other is Tavon Austin.
It’s hard to find targets behind all of the star power on Dallas’ offense and if Prescott has to choose between Amari Cooper and Austin, we can all correctly guess who he’ll find. However, while Austin didn’t have an overly successful season, he did improve … a little. His 171 receiving yards were his highest since a breakout 2016 season with the Rams. His 11 catches were the most since his final season in Los Angeles (2017) and he totaled 78 return yards on special teams. It’s the little victories, right? Well, when stacked up against the Cowboys’ depth chart, maybe not.
Solomon Thomas, DT, San Francisco 49ers
It’s hard to point out a flaw in the San Francisco 49ers’ defense, but when looking at the defensive line specifically, Solomon Thomas was it. Thomas, the third-overall pick in the 2017 draft is still young. He will be 25 years old in August, but with comparisons to the likes of Michael Bennett, I would have expected more this year.
Thomas played in all 16 games but started in only three. His sack total was less than that (two) and the season before was less than that (one). Thomas moved around the D-line as the 49ers bounced back from a 4-12 season to their first Super Bowl appearance since 2012. He can certainly work as a rotational player but as one touted behind the talent level of Myles Garrett, Thomas hasn’t lived up to his No. 3 status.
Philip Rivers, QB, ???
Philip Rivers is old. His arm is not what it used to be. He’s had an unfathomable lack of success in the postseason. The NFL sphere has talked about this … a lot. Here, at TDN, we have talked about this a lot — if this is it to his 2020 free agent profile. While there were a number of underperforming signal-callers, the longer Rivers plays and the more he continues to bust, rather than boom, in the playoffs, he’ll be stuck in this category.
I’m sure he’ll end up on another team, one that hopes he’ll be able to find his strength and success at the tail end of his career but it always seems to get away from Rivers and I don’t see that changing in 2020.