The biggest surprise of NFL trade deadline day? The Chicago Bears were buyers, parting with a second-round pick in 2023 for Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Chase Claypool.
The Bears, at 3-5, are the NFC’s 14 seed but just a game behind the San Francisco 49ers for the seventh seed. Still, this is a move that is seemingly more about building for 2023 — and giving Justin Fields a fair evaluation — than it is about trying to win in 2022.
Grading the Trade: Bears acquire Chase Claypool from Bears
The Bears have been quite busy this week. The Claypool deal comes a day after they shipped linebacker Roquan Smith (who is in the final year of his existing deal) to the Baltimore Ravens for second and fifth-round picks in 2023.
(The Bears helped facilitate that deal by agreeing to eat the vast majority of Smith’s remaining 2022 salary.)
MORE: Chase Claypool Fantasy Impact Following Trade
Claypool, meanwhile, isn’t a short-term rental for Chicago. The Bears will have his rights through 2023 and will owe him just over $2 million for 26 games of service. And if he flourishes in Chicago, the franchise tag is certainly an option if the two sides don’t agree on a long-term deal.
Claypool has 153 catches for 2,044 yards and 12 touchdowns since the Steelers took him with the 49th overall pick in 2020.
Bears trade for Claypool
First, the value: Getting a potential No. 1 receiver for under $100,000 per game is a steal and helps explain why the Bears were willing to deal a potential top-40 pick in next year’s draft to make it happen.
But this is certainly a gamble. Claypool was marvelous as a rookie (62-873-9), but he has caught just 58.7% of the passes thrown his way with three touchdowns in his last 23 games.
Certainly, the quality of quarterbacks throwing him the ball has contributed to that. But it’s not like the Bears have a bonafide star in Fields. They’re betting that pairing Fields and Claypool will benefit both players.
We get the thinking. But we also don’t like the functional reality that the Bears surrendered Smith — a two-time All-Pro — for Claypool, a fifth and the right to pick later in the second round than they otherwise would.
Steelers throw in towel on 2022
Fade the Steelers. Hard. They were probably the worst team in the league before trading one of their most dangerous offensive weapons.
At this point, T.J. Watt should probably just stay on IR for the rest of the season and totally turn his focus to 2023. He would simply be following Steelers general manager Omar Khan’s lead.
MORE: What’s Going On With Kenny Pickett?
The Steelers should be fine going forward at wide receiver with George Pickens and Diontae Johnson under contract through 2024.
But the short-term effect is the trade makes rookie Kenny Pickett’s job that much more difficult in 2022 — and ups the odds he could be one and done in Pittsburgh. The 2023 draft class is loaded at quarterback, and the Steelers are set to have four picks in the first three rounds — including No. 4 overall if the season ended today.
So in that sense, this was a smart move for Pittsburgh — particularly considering they might get an almost-first-round pick out of a player that’s a luxury in 2022.
Claypool’s fresh start
Claypool’s usage rate should get a significant boost. He’s gotten roughly third fewer targets this year than Johnson has. But considering the price the Bears paid to acquire Claypool, he’ll be the undisputed WR1 in the Windy City for the rest of the season.
And while neither has been great as pros, Fields has been marginally better this year than Pickett has — with a fraction of the weapons. It’s time for the Bears to see what they truly have in their quarterback — and his new target.