May 25, 2024

Why Steelers’ Najee Harris decision does, doesn’t make sense

The Steelers had a couple of fifth-year option decisions to make on Thursday for recently acquired quarterback Justin Fields and running back Najee Harris, the No. 24 overall pick in 2021.

To no surprise, Pittsburgh declined to exercise the fifth-year option on Fields as it was set to be worth $25.6 million. However, the team surprisingly declined Harris’ fifth-year option as well, according to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s Gerry Dulac.

Here’s why it does and doesn’t make sense.

Quantity vs. quality

Last season, Harris became the first player in franchise history to rush for 1,000 yards in each of his first three seasons. However, some believe his numbers are more of a product of quantity than quality. 

Per ESPN Stats and Info, Harris is the only player in the NFL with at least 250 carries in each of the last three seasons and one of just three players with multiple since his rookie year in 2021.

The 26-year-old has also averaged fewer than four yards per carry (3.9) through the first three years of his NFL career. The Steelers may think they can find better production for cheaper.

Jaylen Warren

That cheaper production may come in the form of Warren, who was an undrafted free agent in 2022.

Warren has done much more with fewer opportunities, rushing for 1,163 yards (5.1 yards per carry) and five touchdowns over the past two years. He’s also proved to be a reliable receiver, catching 89 passes for 584 yards during the span.

Cheap fifth-year option

Declining Harris’ fifth-year option would have made sense if it would’ve cost a lot of money, but that isn’t the case as it was worth just $6.79 million. 

The Steelers are reportedly “still open to doing business” with Harris but wanted to see how he and Warren function in new offensive coordinator Arthur Smith’s offense before making a long-term commitment to them, according to ESPN’s Brooke Pryor.

Rebuilt offensive line

Pittsburgh may come to regret not giving Harris that long-term commitment, however, if he takes his production to another level in 2024. That seems very possible too, running behind the team’s rebuilt offensive line.

The Steelers put the finishing touches on their O-line through the 2024 NFL Draft with offensive tackle Troy Fautanu in the first round (No. 20) and center Zach Frazier in the second round (No. 51).

If Harris has the dominant 2024 campaign many believe he will, it will cost Pittsburgh a lot more money in the long run.