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Najee Harris is not worth a second contract, and here’s why

The hype is real for the Steelers running game this season. Despite questionable utilization of Atlanta’s running backs last season, Arthur Smith has brought excitement to the Steelers running game, and fans are sensing huge seasons from Jaylen Warren and Najee Harris. An improved offensive line is yet another reason fans believe their senses.

While I do believe we will see an incredible improvement in the running game, is it really the Steelers running backs that will make it happen? More specifically, will Najee Harris carry the Steelers running game success enough to warrant a new contract after the 2024 season concludes?

This was one of several disagreements Jeremy Betz and I debated on this week’s episode of The Steelers Fix podcast. If you have not yet listened to it, make sure check it out in the audio player below this article!

Just recently, the New England Patriots gave their running back Rhamondre Stevenson a four-year extension worth $36 million and $17 million in guarantees. Stevenson only played in 12 games in 2024 due to injury and has his most inefficient season since entering the league, likely due to poor offensive line play. Harris was just slightly more efficient in nearly 100 more carries, and it was the first time in Harris’ career that he averaged over 4 yards per carry in a season. Stevenson still outpaced Harris in receptions, however, racking up as many receptions as Harris had targets.

This contract is what I would imagine to be the ceiling of a new contract for Harris. Despite being in around a better supporting cast, Harris has been much less efficient than Stevenson over the past three seasons together, although Harris’ offensive coordinator did not do him any favors. The best thing Najee can do in terms of boosting his value this year is to become more efficient, as his workload is highly unlikely to go up.

After seeing how Arthur Smith utilized Atlanta’s running backs down the stretch last season, I cannot help but think we will see a near 50/50 (60/40 at best) split between Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren. Fortunately, an improved offensive line and a real offensive system should help Harris improve his efficiency numbers. If Harris finishes the season with 225 carries for 1,000 yards, which is just above 4.4 yards per carry, does he earn a salary similar to Stevenson’s? More importantly, should the Steelers be the team to give him his second contract?

Ultimately, it come down to how much you value the running back position. One could make the argument he is not even the best running back on the team, but regardless of your position, let’s just take a look at the last ten Super Bowl Champions and compare their running back’s contract with each other.

2023- Kansas City Chiefs | Isiah Pacheco (4 Years, $3.7 million)
2022- Kansas City Chiefs | Isiah Pacheco (4 Years, $3.7 million)
2021- Los Angeles Rams | Cam Akers (4 Years, $6.2 million)
2020- Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Leonard Fournette (1 Year, $2 million)
2019- Kansas City Chiefs | Damien Williams (2 Years, $5.1 million)
2018- New England Patriots | Sony Michel (4 Years, $9.6 million)
2017- Philadelphia Eagles | LeGarrette Blount (1 Year, $1.3 million)
2016- New England Patriots | LeGarrette Blount (1 Year, $1 million)
2015- Denver Broncos | C.J. Anderson (3 Years, $1.5 million)
2014- New England Patriots | LeGarrette Blount (1 Year, $1.7 million)

In the past ten Super Bowls, the highest annual salary for a running back on a Super Bowl winning team is less than $2.2 million (Sony Michel in 2018). This statistic proves two things: you do not need a high-paid running back to win a Super Bowl, and you are in better position if you don’t have a high-paid running back.

Running back is the most expendable position in the NFL by far, as the success of players at that position is too highly predicated on the offensive line and offensive system. There are also more competent running backs than there are NFL teams, which drives down the value even more.

In conclusion, regardless of how well Najee Harris performs in 2024, the Steelers would be unwise to give him a second contract anywhere near what Rhamondre Stevenson received from New England. Running back the one position championship teams consistently skimp on financially, and the Steelers need to follow this pattern if they want to win a Super Bowl championship themselves. Use every available penny to pay players at more important positions, and continue to utilize the later rounds of the draft and undrafted free agency to find capable backs in the short term.


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