Steelers extending Najee Harris this offseason would be bad business

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris (22)
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris (22) / Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

In what was one of the bigger surprises of the offseason, the Steelers declined the option of former first-round pick Najee Harris. Even though the team is building a run-first offense in a scheme that should suit him, the front office deemed that Harris wasn’t worth the almost seven million-dollar-a-year deal that the fifth-year option would have paid him in 2025.

This has left quite a few fans speculating that the Steelers are going to just extend out Harris instead of picking up his option. For a variety of reasons that makes zero sense. Any hope of such a deal was snuffed out completely though when Rhamondre Stevenson signed his new deal with the Patriots just a few weeks ago.

He landed a healthy nine million dollars a year, a notable jump in average annual value from what the Steelers would have had to pay on the option. While Stevenson is a more dynamic player overall with better athletic traits and receiving ability, most would likely view Harris as the superior player.

At the very least, they are comparable and Harris won’t want to sign for less than Stevenson.

Steelers would look foolish to extend Harris now

The idea of not picking up a fifth-year option with the hope of extending them seems far-fetched. In general, that option year is used to help bridge the gap for extension talks and provide an extra year to get a long-term deal done. Pittsburgh declining the option tells us that they don’t think that Harris is worth the almost seven million dollars a season it would have paid him.

Now, an extension could be met for less money. That has happened before, and logistically it makes sense. A team doesn’t think the player is worth that amount, but they strike a multi-year deal for less than that value to keep said player around. As stated above though, Stevenson’s contract likely sets the floor for what Harris thinks he is worth.

It would be shocking to see him get less than that, and even more shocking to see him inked to a deal worth less than the option cost.

Pittsburgh could extend him at market value. For the sake of this post, we will say that is somewhere around 10 million a season given the Stevenson deal and the running back market as a whole. If that is the price, then why wouldn’t the Steelers pick up that option? It gives them a discounted year for Harris as well as the extra time to sort out a new deal. Giving him more money than what the option would have paid him is simply bad business.

If I had to guess, the Steelers as a whole are adjusting to the nature of the NFL, and that means devaluing the running back position. More and more teams are utilizing a committee backfield (something this team is doing with Jaylen Warren) and paying midsize contracts to a few backs/rotating through mid-round rookies instead of paying traditional top options.

This means that instead of paying Harris, they are content to let him walk and use those resources elsewhere. Given his age and the fact that he isn’t amongst the elite running backs in the league, this is the right choice. While I think his option price tag was fair and personally would have picked it up, I can’t endorse a long-term deal.

The idea of Harris getting a new contract after his option was declined was already unlikely. However, following his market floor being set at Stevensons deal, it now seems impossible. More than likely, Harris is entering his final season with the Steelers, and he will be playing elsewhere in 2025.

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