With the recent trade of Christian McCaffrey, the Steelers should consider gauging what Najee Harris’s trade market looks like.
The Panthers are in the middle of a fire sale right now, as they are content on trading almost any player it seems. The first huge name moved was veteran running back Christian McCaffrey, as the versatile back was traded to the 49ers in exchange for a 2023 second, third and fourth-round pick as well as a 2024 fifth-round pick. With Carolina receiving quite a haul for a running back, should the Steelers look to trade Najee Harris?
Harris has been one of the biggest disappointments for the Steelers thus far this season. Hyped up as a bell-cow back that this team can run its offense through, Harris has been anything but that. He has lost snaps to undrafted free agent Jaylen Warren and has struggled with efficiency when he has been given the ball.
Why the Steelers should trade Harris
If I were Omar Khan, I am calling any interested team and seeing what they would give for Harris. While he is a good guy on paper, he hasn’t been effective with the Steelers so far in his career. Even though he statistically had a solid year as a rookie, his efficiency just isn’t there. Part of that is due to a mediocre line, while another part of it is Harris’s limitations as a player.
His numbers this season are pedestrian, but he still has some value as a player. He was a pro bowler last season by default, and most teams should still have his college tape on file. Add in his ability as a receiver and there is still value in Harris as a back. A team with a good line could get a decent workhorse for a few years out of this deal.
The Steelers, meanwhile, should be looking to sell this season. Yes, they got a surprising win against the Buccaneers last week, but this team still isn’t very good. Harris isn’t going to move that needle much either (most running backs don’t). Trading him while his value is still high is logical.
What would a trade look like?
To me, the Panthers got a great deal in this trade. Four good picks for a running back with a horrible contract is a great trade. For the Steelers though, getting anything close to what the Panthers got for McCaffrey seems unlikely.
While he has notoriously struggled with injuries, McCaffrey has been the better player between himself and Harris. On top of this, McCaffrey has a history of top-tier production when healthy. At one point in time, he was a difference-maker for an offense before injuries took their toll.
There are some benefits to Harris as a player over McCaffrey. While the age gap isn’t huge, Harris has less wear and tear as a pro. The biggest difference is that Harris is on his rookie deal. That means he has three more years of cheap control for a team if they traded for him. McCaffrey had a huge contract that the 49ers will now have to deal with.
The Steelers shouldn’t just give Harris away by any means, but if a team were to offer their second-round pick for him straight up, I would rush to take it. Honestly, a third-round pick and something else would do the trick for me. The Steelers need draft capital to rebuild much more than they need an above-average running back.
Running backs rarely make a difference
While a good running game is important to have, an elite back doesn’t make a team good. The NFL is a passing-driven league, so having the throwback bell-cow back doesn’t lead to consistent success. Most of the top backs in the league are on average teams while the perennial top teams consist of elite quarterback play.
The Steelers are far away from being a good team in the NFL, and Harris isn’t helping them get here. A day-two pick in the draft could help fill one of the many needs this team has. Meanwhile, Harris could go to a team that would put him in a better position to succeed.
This would leave an obvious hole at running back, but the Steelers would have plenty of options to fill that void. Warren has been efficient with the ball so far, and I think he is deserving of the starting nod if Harris were dealt. If he works out, you have some cheap running back starts for the next few weeks. If not, you aren’t putting a successful season in jeopardy.
Next year you can look for another back if Warren isn’t working out. Damion Pierce has been one of the best backs in the league so far this season, and he was a fourth-round pick. Of the top ten rushers in the league right now, only two of them are first-round running backs. You can find a competent running back almost anywhere, especially when you have a good line for him to run behind.
The Steelers don’t need to find a trade partner for Harris, but if they could net half of what the Panthers got for McCaffrey, they would be wise to take it. Harris isn’t a difference-maker for this offense, and this team isn’t going anywhere this season. Netting a valuable draft pick for Harris would be a no-brainer move for this team heading into the trade deadline.