UNITY TWP., Pa. — Steelers running back Najee Harris was part of a league wide Zoom call among top running backs late last week where they discussed the depressed market that running backs face right now. Harris went to bat for the running backs on Wednesday and talked about the tough situation that running backs are in right now.
When asked about Saquon Barkley and Josh Jacobs specifically, Harris saw the situations as clear as day violations of the position. Both Jacobs and Barkley play so much for their teams, but Harris and the rest of the running backs simply do not see the loyalty being returned to them from the other side of the coin.
“We don’t really have leverage in a way because it’s our job,” Harris said. “With Saquon, he had 30 percent of the offense. He’s not trying to break the market, he’s trying to get compensated fairly. They know it ain’t fair what he’s getting. He wants a long contract. Right now, he’s got no security. We have no security. You guys are using us for what you want and then when it’s time for us to reup they go and turn the other cheek, they just ‘oh well you have wear and tear’. Come on now bruh. You want to utilize us as much as you can for cheap. Then, go get another back and do the same thing.”
Jacobs had the same thing happen to him. But in reality, the running backs see the trend. In Harris’ mind the only time the position gets devalued is when the team finally has to pay up to the running back. Outside of that, other teams look at the position as replaceable. The Steelers did it once when they went from Le’Veon Bell to James Conner after Bell walked. But Harris has an argument that running backs do so much for an offense.
Contracts are often based on future performance, not proven performance, and with the wear and tear on running backs, the data says that the players will noticeably decline as a result. Harris does not believe that to be fair, and there is no security for any running backs as it stands as a result.
“Me personally, I’m so sad to see that they say that because they choose to devalue the running back position,” Harris said. “You know, me alone, they rely on me to do this, close out the game, and they want to lean on me. It happens in Cleveland, Tennessee, the Niners. There’s a lot of times when the running back is utilized in the pass pro game, too, but that’s not a stat. If we’re not running, we’re blocking, if we’re not blocking, we’re running a route. We’re always doing something. The only time they choose to say it’s devalued, is when it’s time to pay a running back. It’s not devalued at all, they just don’t want to pay running backs. For us to see that and with 17 games they want us to do this, we never once say ‘well, the running back doesn’t matter’. Our job is to do what we’re asked and we know that’s our job. We run to that. Obviously, we aren’t in much position with any leverage.”
The NFLPA talked with the running backs about the franchise tag value and how to change that. Harris and the running backs seem to think that tool is being used harshly against them. The Steelers tagged Bell twice and did that route. Now, it seems that Barkley and Jacobs could be on that route, too. But one thing is certain and it’s that the running backs across the league are disheartened.
“They all just have no security,” Harris said. “After this year, what will they do? The same thing again next year. It’s not right and the teams know what they’re doing. To me, the running backs are looking at that and having Pro Bowls and All-Pros, they take their team to the second round of the playoffs, they are 30 percent of their team’s offense, you see that and then when you want something long-term, they don’t want.”