Steelers Hit Snag With Signing No. 32 NFL Draft Pick

Mike Tomlin

Getty Mike Tomlin stands on sideline during warm-ups.

Thanks to a genius trade that went down last fall, the Pittsburgh Steelers are sitting pretty in the second round of the 2023 NFL draft. On November 1, 2022, general manager Omar Khan secured a second-round pick from the Chicago Bears in exchange for wide receiver Chase Claypool. It was a stellar deal from the word go, but little did the Steelers know that the Bears would finish with the worst record (3-14) in the NFL, resulting in the first pick of that round (No. 32).

Of course, the 32nd pick is typically the last of the first round. But the Miami Dolphins were stripped of their first-round NFL draft pick (and 2024 third-round) after the NFL found the organization guilty of tampering (made by former Steelers defensive assistant Brian Flores). Dolphins owner Stephen Ross violated the league’s anti-tampering policy on multiple occasions with Tom Brady and Sean Payton while they were under contract with the New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints.

Forfeiting a pick is not unprecedented. Over the past two decades, four other teams have been forced to relinquish picks. Up until the Dolphins, however, the Patriots were the only team to lose first-rounders — twice.

Where No. 32 not being a first-rounder this year affects the Steelers is with the extremely valuable fifth-year contract option. In a normal draft year, the team at No. 32 overall has the benefit of choosing whether to exercise said option — sign or extend first-round players for an additional year. The Steelers (or whichever team drafts in that spot if the pick is traded) won’t have that luxury and the 32nd player taken will only be under contract for four years.

The fifth-year contract option is cherished by teams that have struck gold with a first-rounder. If Pickett turns out to be the franchise guy fans hope he’ll be, having that additional year under the original rookie will be a cap-saver, as the Cincinnati Bengals are finding out with Joe Burrow.

NFL Network’s Andrew Siciliano discussed the snag with Khan during an interview at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine.

“You have 32 because of the trade for Chase Claypool with the Bears,” Siciliano said. “That’s a second-round pick but because the Dolphins forfeited their pick. 32 would’ve been a first-round pick any other year. Have you lobbied the league here to make that a five-year contract? Because, in essence, it’s a first-round.”

“That’s a good question,” Khan answered. “I’ll let that be. I have a head coach and owner on the competition committee. I’ll let those discussions be with those guys.”

Unfortunately, the likelihood of team president Art Rooney II or Mike Tomlin winning that battle — if they were to fight it — is slim to none. The trade was Claypool for the Bears’ second-round pick, not first.

What Could the Steelers Do with Pick No. 32 in the NFL Draft?

There are endless possibilities for the Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 32. This position in the draft is unprecedented during Mike Tomlin’s time in Pittsburgh — he’s never had the first pick to start a round.

Not that anything coaches or general managers say in the days leading up to the draft can be taken as gospel (they’re playing chess, not checkers), but Tomlin seems interested in trading that valuable pick. He made it abundantly clear that they’re willing to hear potential offers.

“We’re excited about it,” Tomlin said in an April 25 pre-draft press conference. “We’ve been talking about. The thing we’re least familiar with about it is the amount of calls that we will be getting. That’s what we’ve spent our time talking about is how do we organize and how do we get prepared for the receiving of the amount of interest that that pick could have.”

Tomlin acknowledged the value that pick could be to other teams, as well as what it could mean to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“Being in that position, we’re acknowledging we’re not quarterback shopping. That position might be one that attracts quarterback shoppers. So, it’s exciting to see what might transpire with some of those phone calls, the value that we might be able to get. It is a unique position for us to be in. We are very excited about it.”

During an appearance on 93.7 The Fan, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler said Pittsburgh could be looking to trade No. 32 to get back into the bottom of the first round.

“I think they’re considering moving up with that pick,” Fowler said. “They realize they’re in a rare position with that.”

Fowler also said that the Steelers won’t hesitate to use that pick if they sense their target won’t fall to them without a trade.

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