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Steelers GM Omar Khan: Declining Najee Harris' fifth-year option 'a business decision'

Pittsburgh's decision to decline Najee Harris' fifth-year option set up a prove-it year for the running back entering 2024.

It might have also created some animosity, at least from the outside. But Steelers general manager Omar Khan downplayed that narrative this week, explaining it was nothing more than business.

"It was a business decision that we had to make by May 2," Khan said during a Thursday appearance on 93.7 The Fan. "But Najee's awesome to have around here. Love Najee as a player and a person. Just because we didn't pick it up doesn't exclude us from doing something with Najee long term. I'd love to say Najee was here and had a long career in Pittsburgh. He really represents us well on the field and off the field.

"It was one of those things we had to make a decision on. We just felt right now that was the right decision for everyone. I love Najee. I'd love to have him here long term."

Harris hasn't quite earned the confidence necessary to quickly pick up an option, explaining Pittsburgh's hesitance. He's posted three straight 1,000-yard seasons and often carried far too much responsibility for the Steelers' struggling offense. However, he's also been somewhat threatened by the emergence of backup Jaylen Warren, who has thrived as a change-of-pace back behind Harris.

The running back position isn't one in which teams are readily investing beyond rookie contracts and short-term deals, either, adding logic to the decision.

When the deadline approached and Pittsburgh didn't jump at the opportunity to lock Harris into another year, it wasn't a surprise. But it did raise the stakes for 2024, months before the season kicks off.

Given the chance to question Khan on his decision, the folks at 93.7 The Fan understandably capitalized. Harris, meanwhile, is avoiding the topic altogether, declining to participate in interviews during minicamp and promising to speak with reporters during training camp.

It's a smart move for Harris, who knows his best response can only be delivered on the field. With former Falcons head coach Arthur Smith now in charge of the offense, Harris should find himself in his best situation since he arrived in Pittsburgh.

If that happens, the Steelers might feel inspired to retain Harris via a new deal. Perhaps by then, they might have also surrendered some leverage at the negotiating table.

As of now, it's a risk they're willing to take. If history tells us anything, the wait-and-see approach is usually the wisest.

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