Najee Harris' days in Pittsburgh could be numbered
Najee Harris. Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Najee Harris' days in Pittsburgh could be numbered

When news broke that the Steelers would not be picking up the fifth-year option on Najee Harris' contract, fans were left trying to make sense of the decision. But now that the dust has settled and Harris will be playing for a new deal in 2024, it's starting to feel like his days in Pittsburgh are numbered. 

On Tuesday, former Steeler Chris Hoke discussed his expectation that Harris will handle himself in a professional manner and use the decision as motivation. 

"This is going to be a show-me year for Najee I'll tell you what, I hear he has lost some weight. I think he'll come out and he's gonna prove that he's worth every penny," said Hoke to Andrew Fillipponi during an appearance on 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh. 

Hoke then addressed any concerns if this could cause the 26-year-old running back to rebel and hurt the team. 

"The reality is this: Najee's always been a stand-up guy," Hoke said. "Honestly, a couple of things came out of frustration, but Najee the guy, by all accounts, from my point of view, has always been a stand-up guy," he added. 

Few will ever argue against Harris the person, but the question for Omar Khan and the rest of the Steelers' brass is if Harris the player will be worth a long-term investment. While not picking up the option on his contract may have surprised some, it can be explained as simply part of the current mentality when it comes to running backs across the NFL. 

After being drafted by Pittsburgh out of Alabama in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, Harris has rushed for a total of 3,269 yards on 834 carries. And after dealing with some injuries during his first two seasons, Harris is coming off the best year of his career in terms of yards per carry (4.1).

Other backs may have accumulated more yards over that timespan, but Harris has proven to be a model of consistency when out on the field. Harris' Steelers tenure has also coincided with a lack of consistency along the offensive line, something that was addressed in this year's draft

But if the Steelers didn't want to lock up Harris for a fifth year, what suggests they offer him a long-term deal with guaranteed money after the 2024 season? It's possible Harris could increase his value by that point if he's utilized more in new offensive coordinator Arthur Smith's system. The two sides could work out a deal at a lower number before this coming season gets underway, but doing so would leave Harris accepting less money and mean he will forgo testing the open market. 

The mindset among NFL teams about the running back position is clear: franchises are wary of investing at the position due to limited career length and the fact teams have won championships without a top back. And signing Harris to a second contract could hamper the ability for Pittsburgh to continue improving the rest of its roster.  

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