Steelers trading Claypool is long overdue

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons | After two-plus seasons in Pittsburgh, Chase Claypool was dealt to the Chicago Bears on Tuesday.

Luke Henne | Editor-in-Chief

Nov. 3, 2022

Just two seasons ago, it looked as if the Pittsburgh Steelers had found their next great wide receiver, when they selected Chase Claypool in the second round (49th overall) of the 2020 NFL Draft.

Claypool, who had 66 catches for over 1,000 yards and 13 touchdowns in his senior season at Notre Dame, was tasked with being a dependable pass-catcher in a wide receiver room with talent like JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson. His production in his rookie season was more than just about anyone could have anticipated.

In 2020, Claypool finished second on the team in both catches (62) and receiving yards (873), trailing only Johnson. His 11 total touchdowns (nine receiving, two rushing) were best among all Steelers running backs and wide receivers.

In the season-and-a-half since that breakout rookie campaign, Claypool has seen his production decrease and off-field stories increase. His Pittsburgh tenure ended Tuesday, when he was traded to the Chicago Bears in exchange for a second-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Moving on from Claypool was the right move for all parties involved.

Claypool will get a fresh start in Chicago with second-year quarterback Justin Fields, while the Steelers move on from Claypool’s baggage.

Last season, the day after a 31-point loss to the rival Cincinnati Bengals, Claypool was asked about what the Steelers could change during the week in practices to prevent such performances in the future. His response?

“I think maybe some music would help,” Claypool said. “We have music in warmups. That’s always fun. People are dancing and having fun. Maybe music would make practice a little more fun and up-tempo. That’s my one suggestion, but [Head Coach Mike Tomlin] has been doing this a lot longer than I have.”

That’s not the response to articulate. If you feel that way, fine. But practice isn’t supposed to be fun after falling to last place in the division after a blowout loss. Maybe it was just one innocent mistake from a young, second-year player, right? Wrong.

Less than two weeks later, with the Steelers trailing the Minnesota Vikings by eight points and having a chance to tie the game with a touchdown and two-point conversion, Claypool caught a pivotal 9-yard pass from Ben Roethlisberger on 4th-and-1 with 42 seconds left in the game.

The Steelers had no timeouts and had to spike the ball to stop the clock, but that didn’t stop Claypool from pointing and celebrating to indicate his first down. This moment let precious seconds tick off the clock, and Pittsburgh scrambled and couldn’t find the end zone, coming up short in their comeback attempt.

One mistake is forgivable, but when something so boastful happens less than two weeks later, it’s hard to think that this was anything other than a pattern of questionable behavior.

Claypool still finished his sophomore season with a respectable 59 catches and 860 receiving yards, but saw his touchdown total fall from 11 in 2020 to just two in 2021.

That didn’t stop Claypool from making a brash claim this summer.

In an appearance on the “I AM ATHLETE” podcast, Claypool said that “I know I’m a top-three receiver,” while also predicting that he’d have at least 1,300 receiving yards and more than 10 touchdowns.

A top-three wide receiver? Seriously?

At that point, it became clear that the comments and the behavior weren’t going to stop, and the Steelers needed a receiver like Claypool to hopefully bounce back and compliment Diontae Johnson. It also felt like he might take on a bigger role, as Smith-Schuster left and signed with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Through eight games this year, he caught 32 passes for 311 yards and one touchdown. That prediction isn’t looking too strong right now.

After Claypool’s best game of the season, in which he posted season highs in both catches (seven) and receiving yards (96) in a 20-18 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Oct. 16, it looked like he might be turning a corner and coming back to 2020 form.

But, in common fashion, the focus came during postgame media availability. Claypool took a dip (chewing tobacco) from teammate Gunner Olszewski and put it in his lip while reporters surrounded him. Why can’t anything ever be done without some side show?

Claypool can’t take all the blame, as it’s clear that the organization will let the behavior ride, as long as the talent is there. Former wideout Antonio Brown’s incidents are well-documented, and Johnson took to social media and told fans, “If ya’ll are so good, come out here and help us, if ya’ll got so much to say,” after a 38-3 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Oct. 9.

After two years filled with ups and downs, Claypool is on his way to Chicago.

Maybe the Steelers’ second-round pick in 2022, wide receiver George Pickens, will start filling the void left by his predecessor. But replacing someone who’s going to hit 1,300 yards and 10 touchdowns is never easy.