Steelers To Decline RB Najee Harris’ Fifth-Year Option

A report from January indicated the Steelers would likely pick up running back Najee Harris‘ fifth-year option. The team has instead gone in the other direction, per multiple reports. Harris is thus on track for free agency next offseason.

[RELATED: Fifth-Year Option Tracker]

As is the case with all backs drafted early, Harris faced massive expectations upon arrival in Pittsburgh. The Alabama product earned a Pro Bowl nod as a rookie, totaling 1,200 rushing yards while also hauling in 74 receptions. Over the past two seasons, Pittsburgh’s offense has regressed in the passing game but Harris’ ground production has remained steady.

The 26-year-old racked up 1,034 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in 2022, recording one more yard and one more score on the ground this past season. Harris has, however, done so while logging a substantial workload and struggling with efficiency. His yards per carry average sits at 3.9 for his career, and he has logged 978 touches through three years. Especially given the market at the RB position, concerns related to his durability may have informed the Steelers’ decision.

Pittsburgh would have owed Harris $6.79MM next season by picking up the option. Today’s move leaves that off the table, although ESPN’s Brooke Pryor reports the team is still open to working out a deal keeping him in place beyond 2024. Needless to say, much will depend on Harris’ performance this season as he shares time with Jaylen Warren.

The latter played sparingly as a rookie in 2022, but he took on a notable role last season. Warren averaged 5.3 yards per carry while adding 61 receptions for 370 yards in the passing game. That has led to calls for the former UDFA to receive a larger share of the Steelers’ offense than Harris, and it will be interesting to see how new offensive coordinator Arthur Smith divvies up the work between the two. Given the team’s heavy investments up front during this year’s draft, Pittsburgh is set up for a ground-heavy attack.

While this decision creates a degree of uncertainty in the backfield, the same is true under center entering the 2024 season. The Steelers have also declined Justin Fields‘ option, leaving he and projected starter Russell Wilson on track for free agency next offseason. How Pittsburgh’s offense takes shape – and the degree to which Harris is involved – will be a key storyline to follow.

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