The Pittsburgh Steelers had some of us fooled for a period of time.
Following the Steelers’ 20-18 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 6, there were some that actually believed Pittsburgh could threaten for a playoff spot. After all, at a 2-4 record, they were just one game out of the lead for the AFC North division. They had even defeated the defending AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1.
That’s not even mentioning T.J. Watt’s impending return from injury, which is likely to happen in the coming weeks.
However, following their 16-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins, it’s very clear that this is a rebuilding squad led by a rookie quarterback going through some extreme growing pains.
The Steelers had their chances and actually almost pulled off the comeback against the Dolphins. However, rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett threw his second interception with the team in scoring position during the final five minutes of the game to seal the game.
“We didn’t give our offense a short field by producing a turnover or two, and they did, head coach Mike Tomlin said after the game. “So we go back to work. Disappointing, but we got another big game coming up and we’ll get focused. We will assess this, learn from it, and put together a plan and ready ourselves for the next one.”
But that wasn’t the reason for the loss. That’s Tomlin’s way of easing the pressure on an offensive unit surrounded by young talent.
The offense remains as stagnant as ever, Pickett seems to have a little bit of a knack for picks early on in his career and the defense is too inconsistent to be relied upon to carry the team.
“I thought he was highly competitive, played to win,” Tomlin said of Pickett. “He made some plays. Unfortunately he and we didn’t make enough.”
That’s because Pittsburgh is a rebuilding squad. Which means one thing — the Steelers should be sellers at the trade deadline.
Pittsburgh has one more game before the deadline which will come against the undefeated Philadelphia Eagles in Week 8. Barring a miraculous upset, it’s safe to assume they’ll lose that game and drop to a record of 2-6.
As Pittsburgh continues to go through growing pains during its first rebuilding season in nearly 20 years, the Steelers should move forward with offloading veterans. The most appealing of their assets heading into the deadline — Chase Claypool — is the perfect candidate to be moved.
The 24-year-old is having a slow start to the season, but a lot of that can be attributed to the offense itself and the fact that Pittsburgh is starting a rookie quarterback. While his stat line versus the Dolphins wasn’t too impressive — five catches for 41 yards — he was coming off of a seven-reception, 96-yard performance that saw him catch the game-winning touchdown.
Prior to the Steelers’ game in Miami, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported that Claypool is generating a lot of interest heading into the trade deadline on Nov. 1. However, Rapoport reports that Pittsburgh is not likely to deal their young receiver.
“Steelers WR Chase Claypool has been in focus, but is not expected to be dealt, barring a shift,” said Rapoport.
The entirety of the Steelers’ young core — Pickett, Diontae Johnson, George Pickens, Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth are under contract through the 2024 season. Claypool is the only one out of that core whose deal expires after the 2023 season. That’s not even mentioning the fact that the Steelers used a fourth-round draft pick on Calvin Austin, meaning he should figure into Pittsburgh’s plans at some point, if not this season.
In other words, after signing Johnson to a two-year, $36.7 million contract extension prior to the start of the season, they’ll also have to sign Claypool to a new deal. Despite Johnson’s role as Pittsburgh’s No. 1 receiver and Pickens’ emergence — he caught six passes for 61 yards and a touchdown in the loss to the Dolphins — the Steelers are still reluctant to trade Claypool.
As noted by Mark Madden of Tribune Live, the Steelers would expect a package similar to what the Carolina Panthers received for two-time Pro Bowl running back Christian McCaffrey in their recent trade with the San Francisco 49ers. For perspective, the 49ers gave up second, third, fourth and fifth-round picks to the Panthers for McCaffrey.
Simply put, that’s not happening for Claypool.
The Steelers’ reluctance to trade their third-year receiver is understandable. They have a rookie quarterback starting who is having difficulty acclimating to the offense as is. By trading one of his favorite targets, he’ll be forced to rely upon rookie Pickens and the second-year Freiermuth (outside of Johnson).
But even with Claypool in the lineup, this offense is as stagnant as can be. Prior to their Week 7 matchup versus the Dolphins, the Pittsburgh came in averaging 16.2 points per game, 30th in the league. Following their 10-point output versus Miami — their second-lowest of the season — they’re now averaging just 15.3 points per game on the season, which would only rank ahead of the Denver Broncos.
Claypool will eventually seek a new deal. OTC currently has his contract valuation at a shade under $10 million per year. But that’s based upon this season’s production, where Claypool’s stats have dipped as a result of the Steelers’ quarterback play. Once the 6-foot-4, 238-pound receiver hits the open market as a 26-year-old in 2024, Claypool will likely seek a deal somewhat comparable to the one Johnson recently received at $18 million per year.
Considering NFL teams’ thirst for viable receivers, Pittsburgh could fetch a third-round draft pick for Claypool at the deadline.
The Steelers may have a strong stance on dealing before the deadline. But following their loss to the Dolphins — and likely another one versus the Eagles — Pittsburgh should back off its stance and deal Claypool.
In fact, they should look at every possible avenue in stocking up draft capital prior to the trade deadline.