Drafting Chase Claypool Was All About the Money
I have a friend who continually reminds me that the Steelers should've drafted J.K. Dobbins out of Ohio State with the 49th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
While Dobbins brings plenty of potential to the AFC North, unfortunately for the Baltimore Ravens, there's always logic behind a Steelers' draft pick. You can't deny the work of Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert, and despite the upside of Dobbins, not drafting him makes sense.
It's about the future. Dobbins isn't a running back who would come to Pittsburgh and have a heavy workload in year one. The rookie would sit behind James Conner and work with Benny Snell Jr. as the backups to the feature back.
So ignore 2020 and look further.
Next offseason, the Steelers have decisions to make. With Cameron Heyward, Bud Dupree, Matt Feiler, Mike Hilton, and Zach Banner in need of new contracts, and James Conner, T.J. Watt, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Cameron Sutton ending their rookie deals, Pittsburgh has to decide who they're keeping and who they're not.
The two that'll be considered for the open market first are Smith-Schuster and Conner. Offensive stars who are going to be worth well over their rookie contract might not fit into the Steelers' salary cap.
Here are the NFL's highest-paid receivers and what they make a year:
Julio Jones: $22 million
Amari Cooper: $20 million
Michael Thomas: $19.25 million
A.J. Green: $18.171
Tyreek Hill: $18 million
Odell Beckham Jr.: $18 million
Maybe Smith-Schuster doesn't earn Beckham Jr. money, but if he returns for another 1,400-yard season, he isn't walking away with a much smaller check.
That number could be as low as $15 million - which it won't be - and he still comes at a price too high for the Steelers.
Which is why they drafted Chase Claypool.
Claypool has exceedingly high expectations for a rookie with no idea what his role will be. No one has seen him on a practice field since the Senior Bowl, and Randy Fitchner won't even know if he's NFL ready until late July.
From everything we've prior, though, he's a player who can fit well into the Steelers offense. He's also another big-bodied wideout who does somewhat remind you of Smith-Schuster.
If the Steelers have to move on from No. 19 next spring, they already have a backup to step into his role alongside Diontae Johnson and James Washington.
Conner doesn't need all this security behind him. Snell Jr., Jaylen Samuels, and Anthony McFarland will compete for playing time. If we're going to guess, Snell and McFarland are the two-three punch if Conner misses more time in 2020.
But even if Conner returns for the season and earns himself a second Pro Bowl, he's not going to require the contract Smith-Schuster is.
Unlike his receiver counterpart, Conner will enter a market that's already filled with talented runners looking for deals. You can rarely have too many wide receivers, but most teams already have two running backs they feel comfortable with.
Does that mean he won't make what he's worth? No. But it does help keep that price reasonable.
He won't make $13.125 million a year like Le'Veon Bell did when he left Pittsburgh. Instead, he'll be more suited towards a Melvin Gordon deal of $8 million, looking to see a pay increase for a few seasons before taking the next step financially.
There are concerns with injury history, yes. You can't deny that until he plays 16 games, Conner is a question mark once over 200 carries. Still, looking towards the future, it wasn't challenging to decide on Claypool over a running back.
There's now security at the wide receiver position. Claypool gets at least a season to learn from Smith-Schuster. And at the end of it, if it works out, Conner gets a second contract in Pittsburgh at a reasonable price, and the Steelers don't miss a beat in the passing game.