Another practice has come and gone, and yet again we fail to see participation from tight end Vance McDonald for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who has been nursing a foot injury since practically the beginning of training camp.
The sixth-year tight end is in his second season with the Steelers after they acquired him via trade less than a year ago, but he has spent a very large portion of his time in Pittsburgh standing on the sidelines due to a variety of injuries, this foot ailment just being the latest in an already long line of afflictions.
Because of his injury history, McDonald is unfortunately a player who is not going to be given the benefit of the doubt until he returns to the field, and even then there will be many who are simply waiting upon his next injury, taking it as a given that it will come, and probably sooner rather than later.
But as each day passes and the practices begin to tick by, it is hard not to grow concerned. How serious is his foot injury if he is still not practicing by now? Is he already to be considered in danger of missing meaningful time in September? Are we dealing with a situation that is going to linger throughout the season?
This is a pretty important question because the Steelers have to make decisions. The way that his contract that he signed with the San Francisco 49ers and that the Steelers inherited is structured is such that it is essentially a year-to-year deal that can be broken if necessary. But the pay scale really begins to climb after this season.
If McDonald has another injury-plagued season without really ever getting the opportunity to flash the sort of Pro Bowl ability that he seems to have within him, then it will be hard to justify giving him yet another year and at an even higher pay scale. As they say, the best ability is availability, so sometimes it just doesn’t matter how talented you are.
Ideally, this article will be quickly rendered moot by the tight end returning to practice today, but that doesn’t seem likely. If he were about to return to practice, it would probably have been yesterday, as they had several days off due to the first preseason game being played.
And so the question becomes, if not now, when? If he is not back yet, then what does that mean about the odds of the injury being more serious? Are they simply using an abundance of caution? For a player who has had relatively limited practice time with his teammates, one might say that he should be practicing if he’s capable of doing so.