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Analyst Floats Steelers Declining Najee Harris’ Fifth-Year Option

Could the Pittsburgh Steelers really decline Najee Harris’ fifith-year option moving forward given his production with the team?



Pittsburgh Steelers RB Najee Harris
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris in a game against the Buffalo Bills on Jan. 15, 2024. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

This offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers must make a final declaration on Najee Harris’ fifth-year option. While it is expected that they would pick it up and pay him around $6.67 million in the fifth-year of his deal, not everyone agrees that the team should pick Harris’ option up.

Steven Ruiz of the Ringer said that the Steelers will naturally have more players to sign in the future years with many of their players on offense getting older, and he believes that they could spend Harris’ money elsewhere on the team.

“The Steelers have a similar choice to make regarding Najee Harris, who has been more of a contributor than Pitts but who also plays a position of lesser importance,” Ruiz wrote. “Harris has been one of the better players on Pittsburgh’s punchless offense, but (a) that isn’t saying much, and (b) his lack of top-line production behind a shaky offensive line just goes to show that a running back can’t do it all on his own. The Steelers would have to pay Harris just over $6 million in 2025 on the fifth-year option. The smaller price tag may justify the move, but those dollars could be spent elsewhere on a roster that’s full of holes.”

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. The Steelers have a tough decision this offseason on whether to pick up the option on Harris’ deal for the 2025 season.

Asked about 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.”

As Tomlin notes, 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. He had the best season of his career in terms of yards per carry in 2023. Harris 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 one each of his first two seasons.

Despite the strong performance from Harris and the endorsement from Tomlin, Harris’ future remains up in the air not because of his own play, but because of another strong season from his understudy.

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.