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Decision Day for the Steelers and Najee Harris

it’s decision day for the Pittsburgh Steelers on Najee Harris’ fifth-year option. Will they decline it or pick it up?



Najee Harris Steelers Running Back.
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris during a game against the Baltimore Ravens on Jan. 6, 2023. Steelers Now / Ed Thompson

It’s decision day for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Najee Harris. The 2021 first-round pick must have his fifth-year option picked up or declined by the end of the day on Wednesday, meaning that either Harris will be a pending free agent at the end of the 2024 season or he will earn his guaranteed fifth-year option.

Harris’s option cost is $6.790 million for that fifth year. If we are predicting what they will do, it seems likely they will pick up a cost-effective fifth-year option, but it’s always possible they could surprise and decline it. The team is not expected to pick up Justin Fields’ fifth-year option.

Harris became the first player in Steelers history to run for 1,000 or more yards in each of the first three seasons of his career. In 2023, Harris had the best season of his career in terms of yards per carry as he rushed 255 times for 1,035 yards — a 4.1 yards per carry average — and he scored eight touchdowns. Harris had rushed for 3.9 and 3.8 yards per carry in each of his first two seasons.

And with the re-set of the running back market in 2024, guys like Saquon Barkley did well for themselves. And joining the Kelce Brothers on the New Heights Podcast, Barkley lumped in Harris with guys who he hopes get more money than he did.

“That’s your goal, you want to get to a second contract,” Barkley said. “I feel like where I got, it’s like now, Bijan, Jahmyr, Najee, you boys, go beat me. I’m a competitor, I’m trying to go out this year, especially with the situation I’m in now, I’m trying to be the best running back. No questions about it. But let’s push each other. Let’s all drive it.”

Harris, the team’s first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, has produced well in his first three years with the team despite suboptimal conditions given his offensive line play in front of him.

General manager Omar Khan pretty much had the same response in regards to Harris’ contract situation at the NFL Combine back in February.

“We have until the first week in May to make a decision,” Khan said in Indianapolis. “We have a new offensive coordinator, so that’s gonna play into the decision-making process. We’re having conversations with Arthur. It’s been great. We’ve been engaging frequently — coach Tomlin and Arthur and I — we’ve kind of been talking about the offense and what the vision is for it. And we think very highly of Najee and we’ll make the decision before May 2.”

Asked about Najee Harris’ future during his season-ending press conference, Mike Tomlin gushed about the performance of his big back.

“Man, he’s been what we needed him to be,” Tomlin said. “I read a stat, I think you know, he’s 1,000-yard rusher three straight years and how scarce that is. And I just think that speaks to his consistency, availability. He’s been really solid.”

Second-year back Jaylen Warren ran for 5.3 yards per carry, one of the best figures in the league in 2023. He ran 149 times for 784 yards and four touchdowns. He was also more involved in the passing game, catching 61 passes for 370 yards compared to 29 receptions for 170 yards for Harris. It seems like Arthur Smith will want to keep these two together.