Steelers make a bold statement declining Najee Harris' fifth-year option

Declining Najee's fifth-year option was not what Steelers fans were expecting; This was a business move by Omar Khan.
Pittsburgh Steelers v Indianapolis Colts
Pittsburgh Steelers v Indianapolis Colts / Justin Casterline/GettyImages

The Pittsburgh Steelers aren't here to make friends. This is a billion-dollar business and Omar Khan has shown that he's all about business decisions.

The deadline for teams to place the fifth-year option on former first-round picks from the 2021 draft class came and passed on May 2nd. As expected, the Steelers declined the fifth-year option for newcomer Justin Fields (who is projected to begin his Steelers career as the backup QB).

But the decision they made with Najee Harris is one that not many predicted.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Pittsburgh Steelers have declined to pick up the fifth-year option for Harris. The former first-round running back will become an unrestricted free agent following the 2024 season.

This was a peculiar decision and one that will be met with controversy. Harris earned Pro Bowl honors as a rookie and has rushed for at least 1,000 yards in all three seasons to begin his NFL career.

Steelers are making a business decision with Najee Harris

Najee Harris was a team captain in 2022 and he possesses the physicality and football demeanor every coach loves... but that by itself won't be enough to keep him around for the long haul.

Omar Khan and the front office aren't oblivious to analytics. They are well aware that Najee has not been among the most efficient running backs in the NFL. Najee has a career average of just 3.9 yards per carry and ranks toward the bottom of the league in most advanced stats among starting running backs since coming into the league.

Additionally, the Steelers know how much mileage is already on the tires, and they may consider it a risky move to lock themselves into a workhorse running back for a fifth year in 2025. There is strong evidence that suggests running back shelf life is roughly 26 years old and that efficiency takes a major dip at age 27 and beyond. Harris turned 26 years old during the 2024 offseason.

Instead, Khan will make a business decision and put the pressure on Harris in a contract year. There have been questions and concerns about what he could look like in a wide zone offense, as some don't believe he has the lateral quickness to be effective in Arthur Smith's scheme.

Additionally, Harris will be competing with Jaylen Warren. While less productive overall, Warren has been the more efficient runner on a per-carry basis over the past two seasons. It's worth noting that Omar Khan didn't draft Najee Harris, and he may prefer the roster to move in another direction at running back.

It's entirely possible that the running back who has the best season in Smith's offense in 2024 ends up being the one who earns a new contract. The Pittsburgh Steelers are taking a wait-and-see approach. The pressure is on, and it will be interesting to see if Najee rises to the occasion.