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Saunders: Trading Chase Claypool Doesn’t Make Much Sense for Steelers



Steelers WR Chase Claypool

PITTSBURGH — Trade rumors continue to swirl around the Pittsburgh Steelers, and specifically the availability of wide receiver Chase Claypool.

Claypool, the team’s third-year receiver, is coming off his best game of the season after grabbing all seven targets for 96 yards and a touchdown, and was one of the key reasons the Steelers won their Week 6 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Claypool also had five catches for 50 yards in Week 5 against Buffalo, and appears to be trending upward after an early season slump. Through six weeks, Claypool has caught 23 of 36 targets for 225 yards. His yards per game pace is well off his 2020 and 2021 rates, but he’s catching more of his passes (63.9% catch rate compared to back-to-back seasons near 56%) and he’s getting better average separation from defensive backs (2.6 yards, compared to 2.4 and 2.5 the last two years).

RELATED: Steelers Extra: Chase Claypool Opens Up the Middle of the Field

Even if Claypool does not ever exceed the hype of his rookie year, when he had 873 yards and 11 total touchdowns, he appears to be trending positively toward being a productive slot receiver for the Steelers.

So why trade him? Well, the market for wide receivers remains on the absurd side of hot, and the Green Bay Packers are among teams that seem desperate to land one. That’s one place that Claypool has been talked about landing. Specifically with regards to the Packers, their salary cap situation means they probably can’t land a receiver with a bigger contract, but Claypool’s deal would fit perfectly. Would the Pack overpay to land Claypool? It seems probable.

But that isn’t the only consideration the Steelers should have when it comes to moving on from one of their top three receivers. The team basically acknowledged that it is playing for the future when Mike Tomlin inserted rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett into the starting lineup.

The biggest part of that future will be determining whether Pickett has what it takes to be a franchise quarterback at the NFL level. How is he supposed to do that without NFL wide receivers as targets? If the Steelers trade Claypool, Gunner Olszewski is the next-most likely slot receiver on the team, and with respect to Olszewski, who looked better than anticipated in that role in training camp, there’s at least some reason that he never got more than five targets in a season in his three years with the New England Patriots.

Rookie slot Calvin Austin III does not appear particularly ready to join the lineup, and probably would not figure to be a difference-maker in that role as a receiver at this point in his career, anyway. The Steelers could move George Pickens to the inside and play Miles Boykin outside, but it becomes pretty clear that without Claypool, the Steelers would be seriously lacking in talent at wide receiver.

Look at the Chicago Bears this year with Justin Fields throwing to Darnell Mooney, Equanimeous St. Brown and Dante Pettis. Is Fields as bad as his 72.7 passer rating, or have the Bears receivers contributed to his downfall? It’s really hard to say.

That’s the kind of situation the Steelers would be putting Pickett in if they trade Claypool, and not just for the rest of the 2022 season. Claypool is under contract for 2023. The Steelers have many, many other needs for the 2023 NFL Draft, including premium positions like offensive and defensive tackle, inside linebacker and defensive back. 

Right now, wide receiver is not a big need for that draft. The team has Diontae Johnson, Claypool, Pickens and Austin all under contract for 2023. Trading Claypool just introduces another need to an already big job for new general manager Omar Khan and company.

If the over-pay is drastic, trading Claypool might make sense, but the Steelers should be cautious about reducing the amount of talent around Pickett now for some potential future gain.

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