Rarely have the Pittsburgh Steelers been “sellers” at the trade deadline. But last Tuesday, they shipped off WR Chase Claypool to the Chicago Bears for a 2nd round pick. For nearly the entirety of the Kevin Colbert era, the Steelers were competitive buyers. Almost always in the playoff mix, never giving up. The same can be said for Cam Heyward’s long NFL career, drafting by the Steelers right around their peak. So it understandably was a shock that just after Steelers’ practice had finished up last week, Claypool was headed to a different team.
Speaking to reporters Thursday, Heyward admits the move caught him and the rest of the team off-guard.
“We didn’t expect the trade to happen but we don’t make decisions around here,” he said via Steelers.com. “For us, it’s just about taking care of the job at hand.”
Pittsburgh did technically “sell” at last year’s deadline but that was to trade a disgruntled Melvin Ingram in line with Mike Tomlin’s “volunteers, not hostages” mantra. It certainly wasn’t an admission to play for the future. Beyond that, you’d be hard-pressed to find a time when the Steelers traded away a player in-season. But it’s hard to ignore the value Pittsburgh got for Claypool, likely netting a Top 45 selection in next year’s draft.
It’s the first major move under the new Omar Khan/Andy Weidl regime, one that’s clearly in preparation to stockpile draft picks and address the team’s many holes next year. As Heyward said, players have no control over front office decisions. And while it’s tough to see a teammate go, he noted spirits still remain high.
“Spirits don’t get changed. For us, it’s just staying locked in.”
Even sitting at 2-6, players have struck an optimistic tone coming out of the bye week. Yesterday, WR Diontae Johnson and OLB Alex Highsmith said they’re not giving up on the Steelers’ chances. All the team can do is take a one-game approach with the guys on the field. Trades, injuries, none of it becomes excuses worth listening to. Even if Pittsburgh can’t climb back into the playoff hunt, and those odds are super slim, they can still take pride in their work and with four AFC North games to go, play spoiler down the stretch.