Sitting at 2-6, the Pittsburgh Steelers are seemingly in uncharted waters under head coach Mike Tomlin, having not been 2-6 this late into the season since the 2013 season, which they ultimately turned around to go 8-8.
Things might not go that way in 2022, which has the Steelers potentially eyeing the future under GM Omar Khan and Assistant GM Andy Weidl. With the future in mind, the Steelers were quite active on Tuesday ahead of the NFL’s trade deadline, shipping third-year wide receiver Chase Claypool to the Chicago Bears for a second round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, while also acquiring veteran cornerback William Jackson III from the Washington Commanders for a late-round pick swap in 2025.
The loss of Claypool is a bit painful, considering he never quite put it all together on the field for the black and gold after a terrific rookie season in which he scored 11 touchdowns. The addition of Jackson III could help solidify the Steelers’ secondary, which is an area the black and gold have struggled this season, especially at the cornerback position.
Based on the moves the Steelers made Tuesday, CBS Sports’ Cody Benjamin feels rather good about what Pittsburgh did on the day, earning relatively high marks for the Claypool and Jackson trades, seemingly winning each trade, at least initially.
With the move to acquire Jackson, a guy the Steelers liked quite a bit coming out of the University of Houston in the 2016 NFL Draft, the Steelers earned a B grade from Benjamin, who gave the Commanders a C for the move.
“The acquisition of Jackson is timely given that Pittsburgh’s secondary allowed three touchdowns to A.J. Brown during Sunday’s blowout loss in Philadelphia,” Benjamin writes regarding the Jackson deal. “Jackson alone won’t mask all of the Steelers’ secondary issues, but it’s a good start. He’s a veteran player who could mimic the success Joe Haden recently had after joining the Steelers during the back half of his career.”
Jackson struggled mightily in Washington, which led to some pointed comments from head coach Ron Rivera Tuesday, who stated that the Commanders made a mistake in their talent evaluation process and knew Jackson wasn’t a fit in the zone coverage-heavy scheme in Washington.
More of a man-to-man guy, Jackson should be able to bounce back in a more man-heavy scheme in Pittsburgh under defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, who coached Jackson in 2018, which happened to be one of his best seasons in the NFL.
The Steelers did well taking a flier on a guy that they liked, pulling off the trade to avoid the waiver process, making sure they’d get their guy in the end.
As for the Claypool, the Steelers took advantage of a team overpaying to land the young receiver with intriguing height, weight and speed. The deal cuts away some depth at receiver for the Steelers, forcing the likes of Steven Sims, Miles Boykin and Gunner Olszewki to step up as receivers.
However, that second round pick from the Bears will likely fall inside the top 40 of the 2023 NFL Draft, which is a huge win for the Steelers, resulting in a B+ grade for the Steelers from Benjamin, and a C+ for the Bears, who overpaid for a young receiver with a year and a half left on his rookie contract ahead of potentially receiver-heavy drafts.
“The Steelers get the benefit of the doubt here because of how seamlessly they draft, develop and replace pass catchers; they’re basically getting back what they paid to select Claypool three years later, with George Pickens waiting to emerge as a feistier starter anyway,” Benjamin writes.
It will be interesting to see how things shake out for the Steelers in both trades. Hopefully, Jackson finds his game and helps solidify the cornerback position for the Steelers after early returns from Ahkello Witherspoon and Levi Wallace in free agency haven’t been great. As for the second round pick from the Bears, it will be intriguing to see what Khan, Weidl and the Steelers do with that pick in terms of helping jumpstart a retooling process in the Steel City.