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The 5th-year option for Najee Harris is near bottom dollar

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a decision to make.

By the May 2 deadline, the Steelers have to choose whether or not they exercise the fifth-year option for running back Najee Harris for the 2025 NFL season. Harris is under contract for 2024, but the fifth-year option must be made before the fourth year is played and, if exercised, has both remaining years fully guaranteed. While Harris is only counting $4,151,460 on this year’s salary cap, the price is set to go up should the Steelers opt into a fifth-year.

But relative to other positions, the increase in 2025 for Najee Harris is relatively small.

The reason for this is how fifth-year options are now exercised. Instead of it being based on where in the first round a payer was selected, it’s based on what position each player taken in the first round plays. The exact salary amount is determined by other salaries at the player’s position as well as different tiers for each player based on their playing time and if they had been selected to the Pro Bowl. Here is a breakdown of the four tiers and how they are calculated according to overthecap.com (OTC):

  • Basic: Players who do not meet any of the requirements below will be eligible for a fifth year base salary calculated from the average of the 3rd to 25th highest salaries at their position over the past five seasons.
  • Playtime: These players will be eligible for a fifth year base salary calculated from the average of the 3rd to 20th highest salaries at their position over the past five seasons, provided that their snap counts over their first three seasons meet one of the following three criteria:
    -75% or greater in two of their first three seasons
    -an average of 75% or greater over all three seasons
    -50% or greater over all three seasons
  • One Pro Bowl: Players who are named to exactly one Pro Bowl on the original ballot (not as an alternate) will be eligible for a fifth year base salary equal to the transition tender at their position.
  • Multiple Pro Bowls: Players who are named to two or three Pro Bowls on the original ballot (not as an alternate) will be eligible for a fifth year base salary equal to the franchise tender at their position.

Additionally, OTC has estimated the fifth-year option for all the tiers and every position for the players taken in the first round of the 2021 draft. For Najee Harris specifically, he falls in the second category where he gets a boost due to playing time. Harris does not fall in the Pro Bowl category because, even though he was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2021, it was not on the original ballot as he was an alternate.

All of these things considered, Harris is estimated by OTC to have a fifth-year option of $6,660,000. When looking at this value among other players from the same draft, Harris is the second-lowest fifth-year option. The only player lower than Harris is running back Travis Etiene of the Jacksonville Jaguars simply because he did not meet the playing time requirement to move into the next tier. In the Basic tier, Etiene is estimated to cost $5,955,000.

Had either Harris or Etiene made the Pro Bowl one time, their fifth-year option would have jumped up to an estimated $10,104,000. Had they gone into the highest tier of multiple Pro Bowls, the number for running backs would have been estimated to be $12,419,000.

With Harris at the bottom end of the spectrum, the next-lowest fifth-year option from a player from the 2021 NFL draft is tight end Kyle Pitts. His fifth-year option is estimated to be $10,564,000 as he falls into the One Pro Bowl category. Even if Pitts was the Basic category, he would still be higher than Harris as it would have been an estimated $7,032,000.

Just to give an indication as to the estimated highest fifth-year options for this season, Micah Parsons leads the way with Multiple Pro Bowls of a price tag of $23,348,000. Coming in next are quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence and Mack Jones who are in the Playtime category with $21,978,000. The only other player who would cost more than $20 million is wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase who is in the Multiple Pro Bowls category and has an estimated fifth year option of $21,665,000.

Seeing these numbers, it just goes to show how the salaries for running back have fallen off a cliff. With the number coming in so low for Harris, it makes it a much easier decision for the Steelers to exercise his fifth-year option. While the decision needs to be made this offseason, it might be next offseason that is key with the Steelers potentially working out a longer contract than simply paying out that single season.

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