The Steelers have found a diamond in the rough in Jaylen Warren. He went from an afterthought as an undrafted free agent to a fine backup, and now to an active compliment in this offense. While both he and Najee Harris have their pros and cons and work well in tandem together, Warren at times is the more complete player.
The Steelers will have some tough choices to make on contracts this offseason. While there aren’t any pressing names that are pending as free agents, Pat Freiermuth will likely want an extension, but his injury-riddled 2023 will put that into question. Harris can have his fifth-year option picked up or be extended, and I’m assuming he will want at least one of those options to come to fruition.
With Warren having just finished his second season though, he is also eligible to negotiate a new deal. Of all the pending names, I think he makes the most sense as a potential extension candidate. Coming off his 1,150 total yard season, it would be a prudent move.
Why Warren for the Steelers?
Simply put, Warren has been a great addition to this offense, and his next deal will be a minimal one. The Steelers still have a lot of control over him contractually over the next few seasons. If he plays out his undrafted rookie deal, he becomes a restricted free agent in 2025. Pittsburgh would almost certainly tag him, meaning he wouldn’t be a free agent until 2026.
That is a long span for a running back, a position that can change quickly with just one injury. Just look at James Robinson. He was off to a great start as an undrafted free agent, but a torn Achilles derailed him. He has now bounced around teams since the Jets traded for him.
That is a lot of missed opportunities financially for him. Both the Steelers and Warren should be aware of this, and that makes a deal heavily slanted in the team’s favor. While Warren would be wise to lock in a few good paydays, that contract control through 2026 is a key negotiating piece.
Based on his stats and the rest of the market, getting paid 5-6 million seems like a fair market price. That puts him in line with players he was statistically close to. With those extra years of control though, Warren may be forced to take a small discount to stay with the team.
I think a 4.5 million dollars-a-season deal would be in line. Warren locks in at least a year of good money, something that isn’t guaranteed with the restricted free-agent process. Pittsburgh gets to keep a great player around for a few more seasons at a reasonable rate.