With No Fifth-Year Option Decision Due This Offseason, Steelers’ RB Najee Harris Is Next Up In 2024

A month from now is the deadline for NFL teams to decide if they want to exercise the fifth-year option on their first-round selections in the 2020 NFL Draft. The Miami dolphins have already made their decision when it comes to quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and it will now be interesting to see which other teams decide to follow suit. When it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers, no decision will need to be made a month from now and that’s because the team didn’t have a first round selection in 2020 as a result of them trading for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick in 2019.

Prior to this year, the Steelers’ last fifth-year option exercised took place in 2020 and that was with outside linebacker T.J. Watt, who went on to become the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player at the time later that summer. Since Watt, however, the Steelers decided against picking up the fifth-year options on former first-round draft picks, safety Terrell Edmunds and inside linebacker Devin Bush.

The next opportunity for the Steelers to exercise a fifth-year option should be a year from now with running back Najee Harris, the team’s first-round selection in the 2021 NFL Draft. As we sit here more than a year out from the deadline of that decision, there’s no reason to think that Harris won’t have his fifth-year option for the 2025 season exercised. Quite a bit can happen between now and then, however.

In case you’re curious, the base fifth-year option amount this offseason for a running back is $5.461 million. However, the max amount for a running back with multiple Pro Bowl selections is $10.091 million. A one-time Pro Bowler at running back would have a fifth-year option amount of $8.429 million this offseason.

Harris is already a one-time Pro Bowl selection but that was not an original ballot selection after his rookie season and thus it will not count toward his fifth-year option amount determination. Obviously, he has a chance at being an original ballot Pro Bowler for 2023 as well.

It will be interesting to see a year from now what level of fifth-year option that Harris will be in line for. If he makes the Pro Bowl on the original ballot in 2023, that would obviously put him in line to probably earn around $9-10 million in 2025, whatever the amount of the transition tender at his position is listed as. Once a fifth-year option is exercised, that amount becomes fully guaranteed. Harris, by the way, has a scheduled 2024 base salary of $2,439,198 and that’s already fully guaranteed as part of the language in his rookie deal that he signed.

It’s worth noting that after the 2023 season is over, the Steelers could choose to sign Harris to a contract extension at any time and even ahead of the deadline for his fifth-year option decision. The Carolina Panthers did that very thing with running back Christian McCaffrey back in 2020. To date, however, the Steelers have never done as such with any of their former first-round draft picks and odds are probably good they won’t with Harris a year from now. We’ll see.

The worst thing that can happen to Harris in 2023 is for him to miss multiple games due to injury, or him just not playing very well overall. If either of those two things happen, the Steelers might find themselves needing to make a very interesting decision a year from now when it comes Harris’s fifth-year option.

An interesting nugget to end this post with is the fact that from 2011-2019 there were 13 total running backs who were selected in the first round. Of those 13, only four of them, Melvin Gordon, Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott, and Saquon Barkley, ultimately had their fifth-year options exercised. McCaffrey might as well be added to that list as a fifth due to him never making it to that decision deadline.

This offseason, there is only one running back is up for a fifth-year option decision and it is Clyde Edwards-Helaire of the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs, however, aren’t expected to exercise it.

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