Najee Harris is one of several high-profile running backs who has publicly aired his grievances with the downward trend of the position’s market. Conversations amongst the league’s top backs have been aimed at finding a solution to the growing trend of teams avoiding lucrative commitments on second contracts, something which will become a key topic of conversation in Pittsburgh as early as next offseason.
Having been drafted in 2021, Harris is entering the all-important third year of his rookie contract this season. He will be eligible for an extension after the campaign, but, as a former first-rounder, the team will be able to keep him on the books through 2025 via the fifth-year option. Committing to Harris over the long-term would be complicated by the cost of extending franchise quarterbacks, however.
“You don’t have to be a mathematician to figure it out, but when quarterbacks’ salaries start increasing at the rate that they’re increasing, at some point, it’s going to have a residual effect somewhere on the roster,” GM Omar Khan said, via Tim Benz of triblive.com.
“Every franchise is going to handle things differently. It’s up to every franchise to decide how to build their roster, but eventually, that’s going to have an effect when the quarterback salaries are growing at a rate higher than what the cap is,” he added. “There are ways to get around whatever the cap number is, but it’s just going to be a natural effect.”
Indeed, surging prices for young quarterbacks have caused teams to find cost-effective players at other positions, and running backs are a natural target given their attrition rate. Workhorse backs are under threat of seeing a short shelf life in the NFL, something which is particularly of note in Harris’ case. The Alabama product leads the NFL in both carries (579) and touches (694) over the course of his two-year career.
He has been able to total 2,930 scrimmage yards and 20 touchdowns so far, but efficiency (3.9 yards per carry average) has been a concern. Those figures will play a large role in determining Khan’s willingness to extend Harris, 25, when the time comes, and the depressed nature of the market would lend itself to the team having plenty of leverage during contract talks. With plenty of time remaining before those need to begin, though, player and club are proceeding with the status quo ahead of 2023.
Khan noted that he has not discussed any hypothetical extension with Harris, while praising the latter for his on- and off-the-field contributions in his young career. How interested the Steelers become in committing to a multi-year deal sometime down the road will certainly be worth watching, however.