49ers, Packers Have ‘Sights Set’ on Steelers Free Agent WR: Report

Ray-Ray McCloud celebrates with James Washington

Joe Sargent/Getty Images James Washington (#13) of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates with teammate Ray-Ray McCloud (#14) after a touchdown reception against the Detroit Lions on November 14, 2021.

Last March the Pittsburgh Steelers were readily able to retain the services of wide receiver/kick returner Ray-Ray McCloud, as the former Buffalo Bills sixth-round pick was a restricted free agent. But thanks to a breakout season in 2021, the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent could have more than a half-dozen suitors come this time next week.

According to a March 9 report by Cody Benjamin of CBS Sports, McCloud “is expected to have a solid market in 2022 free agency,” as at least six teams—including Super Bowl contenders like the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers—“have their sights set on McCloud ahead of the league’s legal tampering period, which begins March 14.”

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The Steelers Have ‘Strong Interest’ in Re-Signing McCloud

This doesn’t mean that Pittsburgh is going to let McCloud get away without making an offer of its own.

Per Benjamin, the Steelers have contacted McCloud’s representation to “express a strong interest in re-signing the veteran,” who earned a $1 million salary in 2021, according to sports contract resource Spotrac.com.

But the Clemson University product figures to earn a sizeable raise this year, thanks to a 2021 campaign in which he led the NFL in punt-return yardage and finished fourth in the league in kickoff return yards with 367 and 776 yards, respectively, according to Pro Football Reference (PFR).

McCloud—who is listed at 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds—dramatically increased his value by proving that he can also serve as a quality depth receiver. Last season he set new career highs in targets (66), receptions (39) and receiving yards (277), as per PFR, with the lion’s share of that production coming after fellow receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster suffered a shoulder injury in Week 5 against the Denver Broncos.

Those receiving numbers help explain why “(t)he Colts, 49ers, Lions and Packers all expressed interest in the 25-year-old McCloud during the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine, according to sources, and are among teams expected to make an offer to the wideout once the negotiating window officially opens,” offers Benjamin.

3 Steelers Wide Receivers Are Unrestricted Free Agents

More notable, still, is that Ray-Ray McCloud is one of three Steelers wide receivers who are unrestricted free agents, with the others being James Washington and the aforementioned Smith-Schuster. The former is considered as good as gone, as he caught just 24 passes for 285 yards last season, this after making a trade request during training camp, one that went unheeded. Meanwhile, it’s been reported that Smith-Schuster hopes to join forces with All-Pro quarterback Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City, despite having rejected the Chiefs last season to return to Pittsburgh on a one-year contract.

As for McCloud, the Steelers originally signed him after a tryout in August 2020. At the time, he had a total of 16 games of experience with the Bills and Carolina Panthers, but that season he went on to earn second-team All-Pro honors as a kick returner on Pro Football Focus’ 2020 All-Pro team. That year he also recorded 20 receptions for 77 yards and had four carries for 65 yards.

Yet despite having a total of 225 career touches, McCloud has yet to score a touchdown in a regular-season NFL game. Nor did he find the end zone all that often in college. According to ClemsonTigers.com he scored a total of five touchdowns in 40 career games.

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