Steelers can't double down on a mistake and extend RB Najee Harris

The Steelers shockingly declined the fifth-year option of Najee Harris, but that doesn't mean the team should try and extend him this offseason.
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris (22)
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris (22) / Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Following the relatively shocking decision that the Steelers declined Najee Harris’s fifth-year option, speculation has been rampant as to what will happen next for the former first-round pick. More than likely, Pittsburgh will roll him out with Jaylen Warren for another season, but the long-term prospects don’t look great right now.

There is speculation that Harris will ink an extension with the team. While still squarely a possibility, it would be a surprise. Usually, a team will pick up your option and then negotiate a new deal if that was the intent. In the rare times, that the option has been declined and a new deal was struck, it has been for less than what the option year would have cost. Essentially, a new deal would be a shock, as I can’t see Harris agreeing to a deal worth less than the 6.7 million a season.

Not only does a new deal seem unlikely, but it would be a blunder for the team to hand him one given the likely associated costs. It seems like the new regime is acknowledging that the running back market is a replaceable one. This is evident with the heavy usage of a committee backfield, something the old regime wouldn’t have ever considered. In short, the new Steelers are admitting that taking Harris in the first round wasn’t a good value, and they shouldn’t double down on that notion with an extension.

Why the Steelers shouldn’t give Harris a new deal

I’ll be upfront, I thought that the Steelers should have picked up the option for Harris. At the cost, you have a capable runner around for two more seasons at a reasonable cap hit. For an offense that wants to run the ball, that was worth it. It also means you would have controlled Harris until he was 28, so any major regression shouldn’t have been on the table. You run him hard over the next two seasons and let him walk after that.

I have no real problem with Harris on a short deal for that kind of cost. The issue is, the running back market saw a small resurgence in 2024. Assuming Harris wants to be around the top five at the position in terms of pay, you are looking at 12 million dollars a season. Those are resources that could be better allocated elsewhere.

I don’t think there is a viable narrative that says Harris is worth anything close to that, and the history of running backs on second contracts isn’t good to begin with. Fans are quick to point out his three consecutive 1000-yard seasons to begin his career, but he has also been lacking efficiency in those years. He is a powerful runner but needs the line to open sizable holes so he can get to the second level.

Frankly put, he isn’t a difference-maker for this team, a situation that holds true for the majority of running backs in the league. Given his age and workload, I would guess that regression is closer to Harris than your average back, so providing big money to a player like that is a mistake.

Second contracts for running backs typically work in two scenarios. The first one is the player is truly sensational, such as Christian McCaffrey. Harris isn’t that. The second is if the player is a core role player that can be signed at a very reasonable price. Again, Harris isn’t in that position.

If the Steelers do give a running back a new deal, I have said that Jaylen Warren should be that guy. He qualifies as that second option I had mentioned, as I think you have enough leverage to get him on a fair deal and he serves his role well. Not breaking the bank is key here for Warren over Harris.

As for Harris, I think you let him ride out this year and then you allow him to walk next year unless he finally becomes that difference maker many hoped he would be when he was drafted. He should be in line for his best season as a pro statistically (something I have said incorrectly over the past two seasons), but that isn’t enough. He needs to be more efficient and provide you with some bigger splash plays.

Unless he is willing to sign for a number close to what his option price was, an extension for Harris is a bad move for the Steelers. The new regime is shifting its focus to the trenches, and the new look offensive line should benefit any running back that is playing behind them. At this point, it is time to cut bait, admit the value wasn’t there, and shift your philosophy for the future at the position.

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