Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris should be rocking the black and gold for at least the next two or three years, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t focused on what the free agency market looks like.
Given the lack of money and job security given for the league’s top running backs, several high-performing players got together on Zoom to discuss the next moves forward. Harris was on the Zoom call and shared his thoughts afterward to The Athletic’s Mike DeFabo.
“The only time they choose to say it’s devalued is when it’s time to pay the running back,” Harris said via The Athletic. “It’s not (less valuable) at all. They just don’t want to pay the running back.”
The running back market has lost value in recent years, largely because of the way recent Super Bowl champions have paid their top backs. Since 2009, the top rusher for a Super Bowl champion has been paid either $2.5 million or less.
Take a look at the leading rusher from the last 14 Super Bowls and their base salary: pic.twitter.com/sBC97Upzh0— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) February 13, 2023
Teams tend to plan on drafting a running back, paying him his rookie contract for four or five years, and then letting him hit free agency when another rookie is ready to take the reins. It’s a cycle that may not ever end.
“We know what you’re trying to do,” Harris said. “You’re trying to utilize us as much as you can, get as much as you can out of us for cheap. And then go get another back or something like that and try to do the same thing again. That’s the trend that is happening right now.”
This trend certainly hurts running backs, creating a cap of their rookie contracts to make money. But it’s hard to find an easy fix to this.
Last year, Harris ran for over 1,000 yards for the second straight season and had a cap hit of just under $3 million as a 24-year-old. He’ll be 27 when he hits free agency expecting a handsome raise, but would the Steelers be wise to pay him that and get potentially less value as he enters his late 20s and early 30s? Or would the Steelers be smarter to find a younger version of Harris in the draft who will command far less money?
It’s an issue on both sides, but it is also hard to see a resolution coming soon.