The Pittsburgh Steelers surprisingly decided to decline Najee Harris’ fifth-year option Wednesday, which will make him an unrestricted free agent after the season. 

Harris is coming off his third straight 1,000-yard rushing season with the Steelers, totaling 1,035 yards with a career-high eight rushing touchdowns in 17 games. 

But with new offensive coordinator Arthur Smith, Pittsburgh wants to see how Harris and other running backs like Jaylen Warren produce in a new scheme, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 

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Najee Harris runs the ball

Running back Najee Harris of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs against the Las Vegas Raiders during the first half at Allegiant Stadium Sept. 24, 2023, in Las Vegas.  (Chris Unger/Getty Images)

Still, Harris has been a workhorse for the Steelers since he was selected 24th overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, even with Warren taking some playing time away, especially in pass situations last season.

Harris made it to the Pro Bowl after rushing for 1,200 yards on 307 carries with seven touchdowns and 467 receiving yards with three more scores in his rookie campaign. He ran for 1,034 yards on 272 attempts with 10 total touchdowns in 2022. 

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But the lack of explosion from Matt Canada’s offense made Harris’ production lackluster. He averaged a career-high 4.1 yards per carry last season after 3.9 and 3.8 in 2021 and 2022, respectively. 

Najee Harris runs

Najee Harris (22) of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs the ball up field in the second quarter of a game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium Jan. 6, 2024, in Baltimore.  (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Simply put, Harris wasn’t busting out big runs, but he would move the line of scrimmage every now and again. 

Harris would have made $6.7 million if the Steelers decided to pick up his fifth-year option for the 2025 campaign. 

Instead of having that security heading into 2024, Harris is now in a contract year when he’ll have to prove to the Steelers — and the entire league — he’s worthy of a new contract. 

Najee Harris vs Ravens

Steelers running back Najee Harris runs the ball near the Baltimore Ravens’ goal line at M&T Bank Stadium Jan. 6, 2024, in Baltimore. (Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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Could another season of solid production lead him to signing elsewhere? The Steelers made this decision knowing that might be the case, but Harris must first perform under new leadership before free agency talk can start. 

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