It was little more than a week ago when Cody Benjamin of CBS Sports reported that Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver/kick returner Ray-Ray McCloud was expected to have a “solid market” in free agency, with the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers among the teams with their “sights set” on the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent.
Benjamin proved to prescient, as on the night of Thursday March 17, ESPN senior NFL reporter Jeremy Fowler indicated that the 49ers are signing McCloud to a two-year contract.
Fowler went on to add that the “Steelers attempted to keep McCloud but S.F. made (a) stronger commitment.”
Tom Pelissero of NFL Network subsequently reported that McCloud’s deal is worth “up to $10.4 million,” making it no surprise that the Steelers were unwilling to rise to that level of commitment.
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Ray-Ray McCloud Had a Breakout Season in 2021, Relatively Speaking
It’s really no surprise that McCloud, 25, was in demand in free agency, as the former Buffalo Bills sixth-round pick had his best season to date in 2021, demonstrating that he could be more than just a kick return specialist.
Last year McCloud—5-foot-9 and 190 pounds—set new career highs in targets (66), receptions (39) and receiving yards (277), as per Pro Football Reference, taking advantage of the increased opportunities he was offered in the wake of JuJu Smith-Schuster’s painful-looking Week 5 shoulder injury, which kept Smith-Schuster out for the remainder of the regular-season.
The 49ers also get one of the better kick returners in the league, at least by current standards. As noted by Fowler, McCloud led the NFL in punt return yards in 2021. That followed a 2020 campaign in which he was named second-team All-Pro kick returner by Pro Football Focus.
Ray-Ray McCloud Has Yet to Score a Touchdown in the NFL
As for McCloud’s history with the Steelers, the team originally inked him after a tryout in August 2020. All told he appeared in 32 regular-season games for Pittsburgh, with seven starts. He contributed a total of 63 kickoff returns for 1,422 yards and 67 punt returns for 665 yards. As a receiver he had 59 receptions for 359 yards, as well as six rushing attempts for 80 yards.
Yet despite all those touches—not to mention the touches he had while a member of the Bills (2018) and the Carolina Panthers (2019)—McCloud hasn’t scored a touchdown since college, when the Tampa native had five career TDs in 40 games with the Clemson Tigers.
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Meanwhile, the other two Steelers wide receivers who are unrestricted free agents remain unsigned, namely former second-round picks JuJu Smith-Schuster (2017) and James Washington (2018).
Washington is considered as a good as gone, as he requested a trade during training camp last summer—a request that went unheeded.
As for Smith-Schuster, it’s been reported that he “hopes to join” the Kansas City Chiefs; he has also been predicted to sign with the New England Patriots.
With McCloud gone the Steelers figure to look to the draft to add a wide receiver with proven kick return ability, as receiver looks to be one of the team’s more prominent needs going forward.
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