Ten months removed since the Chase Claypool trade to the Chicago Bears, it’s clear the Pittsburgh Steelers have been early winners of the deal. Claypool was a disappointment late in his Steelers tenure, and general manager Omar Khan managed to flip that disappointment into the No. 32 overall pick.
None of that is new news. But what ESPN’s Brooke Pryor shared while appearing on This is Football podcast on September 8 was new.
Pryor appeared to apply some blame to Claypool for the team’s 2-6 start to the 2022 season when she asserted that the Claypool trade helped the Steelers solve their “internal discord” stemming from receiver’s frustrations. She added the trade directly led to the turnaround during the second half of the season for the team.
“One of the biggest reasons that the Steelers were better in the second half of the year and went from 2-6 to 7-2 after the bye week was the Chase Claypool trade,” Pryor said. “That was an addition by subtraction because you take that guy out of the locker room, a guy who was vocally frustrated after games, ‘Why are you not throwing the go ball?’ Well, because when you did, you didn’t catch it or there was an interception when you should’ve had it.
“But I think that for the Steelers, they had a lot of internal discord and a lot of that was from the frustration of Claypool.”
Chase Claypool Trade Determined Turning Point of Steelers’ 2022 Season
In Claypool’s defense, there were definitely other factors at play in Pittsburgh’s much better second half of 2022.
All-Pro edge rusher T.J. Watt returned from injury, and the Steelers finally fully committed to Kenny Pickett by the beginning of November.
The schedule also got a lot easier. The Steelers faced the Buffalo Bills, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami Dolphins and Philadelphia Eagles in the first half. During that time, they also played the New York Jets, who started the season 5-3.
In the second half of the 2022 season, the Steelers didn’t square off against a playoff team outside the AFC North.
Still, Pryor assertion that Claypool’s frustration was a problem for the team, which was fixed upon trading him away, is pretty damning criticism, and Claypool has had plenty of criticism.
He took the NFL by storm as a rookie in 2020, posting 62 catches for 873 yards. He also had 11 total touchdowns, including 4 in one game against the Eagles.
But Claypool only has 3 touchdowns in the past two seasons combined. At least during his second season, he still accumulated 860 receiving yards. Last season, though, he had only 46 receptions for 451 yards.
Claypool is a big-bodied receiver who is supposed to be great at jump balls. But he only average 9.8 yards per reception last season.
With the Bears, he had just 14 catches for 140 yards in seven games.
Claypool Trade Has Placed Steelers in Their Position Heading Into 2023
Perhaps the internal discord was part of why the Steelers traded Claypool. Another major reason, though, was his drop in production and upcoming free agency.
Claypool will be a free agent next March. The Steelers already signed wide receiver Diontae Johnson to a two-year extension worth $36.7 million and have wideout George Pickens on his rookie deal.
In all likelihood, Pittsburgh wasn’t planning on keeping Claypool beyond 2023. So, it made sense to sell him to the highest bidder during what appeared to be a lost season.
Because of the Claypool trade, the Steelers now have a promising cornerback Joey Porter Jr., who they drafted at No. 32 overall. Pryor implied that also thanks to that selection, the Steelers felt comfortable giving up a selection to move up and take left tackle Broderick Jones in the first round.
The 2023 draft class could prove to be one of the best in Steelers’ recent memory. The Claypool trade played a major part in that.
According to Pryor, it also fixed the Steelers locker room.